Allen Ginsberg’s Handwritten Poem For Bernie Sanders, “Burlington Snow” (1986)

Ginsberg Sanders

Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, Uni­ver­si­ty of Ver­mont Libraries

No mat­ter how much of a polit­i­cal junkie you are, you must sure­ly have had enough of the spec­ta­cle that is the 2016 cam­paign for the pres­i­den­cy. At cur­rent count, we are faced with an astound­ing 15 can­di­dates for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, one of whom is doing his best to revive the ugli­est nativism of the 19th cen­tu­ry. On the oth­er side of our bina­ry par­ty sys­tem, we have only One. Or so it would seem if you were to pay atten­tion to much of the media cov­er­age, which only rarely men­tions the hand­ful of oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­tenders and most­ly ignores the ris­ing tide of sup­port for Bernie Sanders.

The Sen­a­tor from Ver­mont has unabashed­ly referred to him­self, through­out his long polit­i­cal career, as a demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist or, on occa­sion, sim­ply a “socialist”—a word that strikes fear into the heart of many an Amer­i­can, and res­onates wide­ly with anoth­er por­tion of the elec­torate. Debates over what this means rage on. George Will calls Sanders’ social­ism a “cha­rade.” Thor Ben­son in the New Repub­lic accus­es him of play­ing “loose with the ter­mi­nol­o­gy.” The his­to­ry and cur­rent state of “social­ism” is so long and com­plex that no one def­i­n­i­tion seems to suit. Its polit­i­cal bag­gage in Amer­i­can dis­course, how­ev­er, is unde­ni­able.

This was just as true in 1986, when Allen Gins­berg wrote a poem in praise of Sanders, then may­or of Burling­ton, Ver­mont. Gins­berg play­ful­ly draws on the loose asso­ci­a­tions we have with the word, ham­mer­ing it home with tongue-in-cheek rep­e­ti­tion, then turn­ing reflec­tive.

Social­ist snow on the streets
Social­ist talk in the Mav­er­ick book­store
Social­ist kids suck­ing social­ist lol­lipops
Social­ist poet­ry in social­ist mouths
—aren’t the birds frozen social­ists?
Aren’t the snow­clouds block­ing the air­field
Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Appear­ances?
Isn’t the social­ist sky owned by
the social­ist sun?
Earth itself social­ist, forests, rivers, lakes
fur­ry moun­tains, social­ist salt
in oceans?
Isn’t this poem social­ist? It does­n’t
belong to me any­more.

Call­ing it “Burling­ton Snow,” Gins­berg com­posed the poem—equal parts goofy and sincere—on a vis­it to the city, one of many pil­grim­ages made by left-wing writ­ers and artists after Sanders’ string of attempt­ed for­eign pol­i­cy inter­ven­tions. You can read all about the opti­mistic socialist—or demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist, or whatever—in Paul Lewis’ Guardian por­trait.

via Moth­er Jones

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Allen Gins­berg & The Clash Per­form the Punk Poem “Cap­i­tal Air,” Live Onstage in Times Square (1981)

‘The Bal­lad of the Skele­tons’: Allen Ginsberg’s 1996 Col­lab­o­ra­tion with Philip Glass and Paul McCart­ney

The First Record­ing of Allen Gins­berg Read­ing “Howl” (1956)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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