Thursday, May 17, 2012

Looking back...

Overall I enjoyed the class and I think that Leaves of Grass is definitely a rich resource for assignments and discussions. I understand the appeal of centering the class around online work however I'm not personally a fan of blogging. It is a convenient way to turn in assignments and maybe I'm just not used to it but blogging for whatever reason is more frustrating for me than actually turning assignments in. Although I do enjoy Whitman and I respect his work I was a little disappointed that Frost was not actually included in the course. After awhile focusing so heavily on Whitman alone got kind of intense. I did like the group projects though since it expanded discussion onto different artists. I'm sure that online based coursework is the way of the future anyway so my personal aversion to it should not suggest that the structure of the class was not effective.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Woody Guthrie

Guthrie as Whitmanesque:

           Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912.  He was an influential folk musician and poet noted for his political lyricism and honest representation of the American people in the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression.  He was a poet of the people and his words illustrated the character of the American everyman, the average migrant worker and the poor wandering traveler. Guthrie died in 1967 due to complications from Huntington’s disease, which he inherited from his mother.

To Guthrie and Whitman art and politics were inextricably interrelated.  Whitman’s theory of democracy was mainly based on organic rights, simplicity, independence, homespun manners and a general contempt for wealth. Similar themes can be observed across Guthrie’s body of work as well.

Questions to consider:

Is there a distinct relationship between art and politics?

How do Whitman and Guthrie convey this relationship and what role do you think they believe the artist has in politics?

How do they each address/promote the idea of equality amongst American people?

How does Guthrie's approach to the turmoil of his time, and his attitude toward working-class people, compare to Whitman's?

As a medium for inspiration and organization, how does music compare to poetry?

How strong is the legacy of such artists today?

Are we or can we be a more equal and unified country thanks to their work?


Consider the quote below from Whitman’s Song for Occupations:

“Why what have you thought of yourself?
Is it you then that thought yourself less?
Is it that you thought the President greater than you?
or the rich better off than you?
or the educated wiser than you?

Because you are greasy or pimpled—or that you was once drunk, or a thief, or diseased, or rheumatic, or a prostitute—or are so now—or from frivolity or impotence—or that you are no scholar, and never saw your name in print . . . do you give in that you are any less immortal?"

Take a look at Whitman’s Song of the Open Road. Lines 15 through 73 from the poem are shown below but the whole piece is worth reading:

You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.

Here the profound lesson of reception, nor preference nor denial,
The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas’d, the illiterate person, are not denied;
The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar’s tramp, the drunkard’s stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
The escaped youth, the rich person’s carriage, the fop, the eloping couple,

The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the town, the return back from the town,
They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,
None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.

You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear to me.

You flagg’d walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships!

You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d fa├žades! you roofs!
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!
You doors and ascending steps! you arches!
You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!
From all that has touch’d you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,
From the living and the dead you have peopled your impassive surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable with me.

The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?

O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.

Take a look at Guthire’s song Pastures of Plenty:

It's a mighty hard row that my poor hands have hoed
My poor feet have traveled a hot dusty road
Out of your Dust Bowl and Westward we rolled
And your deserts were hot and your mountains were cold
I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you'll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind
California, Arizona, I harvest your crops
Well its North up to Oregon to gather your hops
Dig the beets from your ground, cut the grapes from your vine
To set on your table your light sparkling wine
Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground
From the Grand Coulee Dam where the waters run down
Every state in the Union us migrants have been
We'll work in this fight and we'll fight till we win
It's always we rambled, that river and I
All along your green valley, I will work till I die
My land I'll defend with my life if it be
Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free.

Consider Guthrie’s most famous song This Land is Your Land:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island; 
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters 
This land was made for you and Me.
As I was walking that ribbon of highway, 
I saw above me that endless skyway: 
I saw below me that golden valley: 
This land was made for you and me.
I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps 
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts; 
And all around me a voice was sounding: 
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling, 
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, 
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting: 
This land was made for you and me.
As I went walking I saw a sign there 
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing." 
But on the other side it didn't say nothing, 
That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, 
By the relief office I seen my people; 
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me, 
As I go walking that freedom highway; 
Nobody living can ever make me turn back 
This land was made for you and me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The People Yes...

     Carl Sandburg's "The People Yes" is an interesting poem to read alongside Whitman.  Mencken, a noted journalist, famously referred to Sandburg as "indubitably and American in every pulse-beat."  I would agree that the tone of his poetry has clear American roots behind it down to the title addressing the subject of "the people."  Sandburg's voice was one out of the Depression and I think that this poem successfully voices the state of the everyman at that time.  
     There are definitely similarities in the poetic qualities of Sandburg and Whitman however one very noticeable difference is the voice that each poet takes in these pieces.  Whitman writes with a continuing first person point of view, however this character does move from a more literal being to a more abstract higher-being at times.  Sandburg, on the other hand, writes with a more omniscient third person speaker and reads as someone who seems to be representative of all the people as a whole as opposed to one person relaying ideas to everyone else.  I looked at a particular section of Sandburg's poem with the concluding segment from "Song of Myself."  Here are some instances that parallel in thematic issues and tone, and lines that I thought were particularly strong from each:

The People Yes...
     - The people will live on...You can't laugh off their capacity to take it.
     - The people is a tragic and comic two face.
     - This reaching is alive.
     - Man is a long time coming. Man will yet win.
     - Who can live without hope? Where to? What next?

Song of Myself...
     - It is not chaos or death-it is form, union, plan-it is eternal life-it is Happiness
     - (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
     - I too am not a but tamed, I too am untranslatable.
     - Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged...I stop somewhere waiting for you.

     Both poets address the theme of the form, the union and the plan.  In Sandburg's poem, he quotes the everyman stating that he has to work to make a living and this work fills all of his time, leaving no time to observe the rest of things.  He conveys the idea that we are constantly working and trying and reaching for the next thing to take us forward.  His poem has movement to it.  The union factors in as he refers to "the people" as a single being existing as one, as Man.  Whitman discusses the same themes in his piece however his voice is one of a rebel, someone who exists with the people but also exists as the individual, someone who cannot be tamed or predicted, someone the people could perhaps be reaching for.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Here coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig of lilac...

- "Prais'd be the fathomless universe, for life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious, and for love, sweet love- but praise! praise! praise! For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death."

- Lucille Clifton's poem, "September Songs, A Poem in Seven Days,"I think mirrors some of the themes of "When Lilacs Last..."  Clifton refers to the happenings of 9/11 and the sorrow that surrounds it but juxtaposed with the motifs of fear and death is the birth of her granddaughter Bailey.  She describes the feeling of hatred being outweighed by the all consuming love for the wonderful birth of life in her family. She acknowledges that she knows no one is exempt from death and sadness but that in spite of the violence in the world there still remains love and beauty and new hope.

- "and I am consumed with love for all of it
the everydayness of bravery
of hate of fear of tragedy
of death and birth and hope."

- I also found a similar tone Robert Creeley's poem, "Ground Zero."  The poem is short and sweet but he touches on the themes of ever-continuing life and the fact that everyone is headed for the same inevitable fate of death.  Everything that exists now is only temporary, as were the twin towers, and everything that will exist in the future will only be temporary.  We must all accept this and live anyway because we are only given one chance and regardless of what happens in any one moment in time we will all ultimately turn to dust.

- "Persist, go on, believe.
Dreams may be all we have."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Project Possibility

I thought that for my project it would be interesting to explore some of Whitman's other work other than "Leaves of Grass."  After spending so much time with "Leaves of Grass" I'm curious about his other writing and seeing the evolution of his work outside of the edits of "Leaves of Grass."  I thought that it would also be interesting to write an original poem either directly based on a piece by Whitman or maybe framed after one of his poems.  In one of my other poetry classes from a previous semester we had to choose a poem that we had studied and liked and them write our own poem using that one as a template.  I enjoyed the project because with the framework already laid out it made room for creativity in other areas.  I thought it might be fun to choose a piece by Whitman for a project like this and sometimes I find that when working off of another poet's work I am able to discover something about my own writing and put an original twist.

Whitman in Mass Culture and Modern Media:

     Before I had closely read the work of Whitman I was always aware of him as a poet and a figure that has continued to influence people over the course of a century.  When we first discussed Whitman appearing in modern contexts what initially came to mind was the Ginsberg poem "A Supermarket in California."
      This semester I am also taking a Bob Dylan class where we analyze Dylan's body of work from the start of his career in the 1960's.  In addition to studying Dylan we also delve into the work of the Beat poets, Ginsberg being a prime example.  In his poem "A Supermarket in California" he directly addresses Whitman throughout the poem and I thought it was an interesting synchronicity to come up between my courses.
     "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon...I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys."

I feel like I hear references made in shows and movies all the time to Whitman himself or his poetry but one that i remembered was from an episode of "Friends" when Joey is dating a woman named Charlie who is out of his league in terms of intelligence and education.  She is suggesting activities for them to do on their date and she mentions a museum exhibit showcasing the letters of Whitman.

These were the most recent references I could think of but when searching online for other instances of Whitman included in mass culture i found that he had been mentioned on many other shows and movies I've seen such as "Six Feet Under" and "The Twilight Zone."  It seems that Whitman's reputation as a writer lent for the credibility of institutions that used his name of image such as the Walt Whitman Hotel in New Jersey.  I think that we will continue to see Whitman appear in mass culture, and now that I've taken this class the reference won't go over my head!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Whitman's Reviewers:

Whitman mentions in one of his own reviews that his book is the result of a "certain kind of transcendental thinking, which some have styled philosophy."  I think that Leaves of Grass got the extensive and often times harsh criticism that it did because it was a revolutionary work in the sense that the literary and poetic society had not previously been exposed to the raw and untamed inner thoughts that Walt brings forth in published form.  The piece is often referred to as philosophical because it explores areas of the human condition that previous writers had not addresses, especially on such a personal level.  Walt expresses his awareness of the impression that he makes by essentially ignoring traditional poetic politeness and decency, but also points out that it is not arrogance that sparks his desire to write freely but the passion that was dealt by nature and exists in all of us. 
Whitman is described as "tenderly affectionate, rowdyish, contemplative, sensual, moral, susceptible, and imperious."  This statement brings to light many of the themes that his reviewers addressed, whether positive or a negative.  He was criticized at great length for his use of punctuation in the poem, which at the time was viewed as incorrect and undisciplined as oppose to artful or thought-provoking. 
"His punctuation is as loose as his morality."
Many readers considered the presentation to be offensive and vulgar, "more like the ravings of a drunkard, or one half crazy."  The literary community at the time was not used to works that so blatantly dismissed usual poetic structure and "parlour" appeal.  Critics had trouble seeing past Whitman's use of slang and inclusion of subject matter that to the general public was deemed impolite and shameful.
The theme often comes up of rough vs. refined poetry, Whitman of course falling into the category of rough, wild, and rebellious.  Even his image shown at the beginning of the book is analyzed by critics as being representative of the sloppy style and low verse of the poem to come.   
While Leaves of Grass was widely regarded with negative criticism there were also the readers who recognized the revolutionary tone of the piece and admitted to the desire for sensual and unchecked rawness.  Looking at the piece from a modern perspective I think that Whitman took the bold first step to make way for more contemporary poetry that is based on realness and human nature instead of regulation and academia.