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.