American Dreams

POETRY AND POLITICS SERIES

Jean Casella, my longtime editor, who has published, edited, and written about books for twenty years, has agreed to bring some culture to Unsilent Generation by posting a literary excerpt every now and then, along with reviews of books, movies, and music.

For July the 4th, she sent me these two poems, one from the 1930s (and especially relevant to our current economic conditions), and one from the 1950s (which reminds me what things were like in this country when I was young). In both, the poets confront their nation about its failure to live up to its own promise, and its own mythmaking. Both, I think, are examples of what Howard Zinn meant when he said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

I can’t post these in their entirety for copyright reasons, but urge you to follow the links and read them through.

 

Let American Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)…

Read the complete poem here.

 

America
by Allen Ginsberg

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument….

Read the complete poem here.

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