Thursday, May 17, 2012

Final Project - Youtube Project Revision (Song)

(copy/paste the link, the embed option is failing)

My Final Project

The heirs of Whitman project made sense because so much of Whitman’s poetry is configured as a dialogue with future generations. When he’s effusing, asking us to find him under our boot-soles he is speaking to contemporary and future residents of his spaces. Guthrie took up Walt's message during a national communications shift from readership to more visual/auditory forms.  Walt and Guthrie both believed their art should be social, democratic, and popular and Guthrie’s context provided him a new mode to appropriate Walt’s message to make it truly popular.

Walt said in a conversation with future generations: “you justify me.” I feel the format I chose justifies Whitman in several ways. His message is encoded in a pop format which is easily digestible yet contains words of wisdom. It’s an egalitarian, democratic mode that has appeal beyond class lines. Moreover, the form itself implies Walt’s message, specifically his panoramic scope and insistence that there’s no thing too small that fails to possess a fair measure of dignity and divinity, e.g. various fundamental American pop tropes. Unusual for a pop song, these parts don’t repeat; rather, they survey what’s available in a pop context, sampling among options just as Whitman surveys scenes and occupations, lingering for a little while and then moving on. This effort hopefully constitutes an authentic engagement with Whitman and the American Tradition by appropriating existing instruments to serve the ends of each of them. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Project Development

I'm unsatisfied with my effort for the Youtube assignment and aim to revisit it in hope of producing a worthwhile project. My aim is to embody a selection of Whitman's verses in melody and form and to present it as a short, traditional song. This, I think, goes hand in hand with the democratic import of his project and will enable his words to move beyond the page and become actual "vibrations" that float through the air.

Tweet of the Week: Peter Doyle

Peter Doyle was a romantic companion of Whitman for an extended period of their lives. They met in D.C. when Walt was in his forties and Peter was in his early twenties at his work of conducting a street car, in which Walt was the sole occupant. This selection of a mate embodies Whitman's preference to move among the “uneducated” as Doyle was a simple, ordinary man; also embodied is Whitman's internal contradictions as Doyle, an Irish immigrant, fought on the confederate side of the war whose function was to dissolve the Union, the preservation of which Walt had been pining. Doyle is thought to have some effect on the arrangement of the Calamus poems which extol manly love. Doyle provided a biographer of Walt insights into Walt's romance and sexuality by allowing him to publish love letters from Walt to himself and by agreeing to an interview for the biography.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Specimen Days: My Passion For Ferries

Whitman equates commuting with poetry in this entry. He thinks of his daily commute as a living poem, one teeming with a plurality of captivating sights for him: schooners, crashing waves and “oceanic currents,” the “tides of humanity” along with those of the water.  Moreover, this stuff is actually the subject of much of his poetry, and we are able to trace his subsequent poetic renderings of this ordinary event to its incipient moments. This entry illustrates Whitman’s tendency to find beauty in the common and mundane. 

Tweet of the Week: Martin Tupper, Proverbial Wisdom

Martin Tupper, an English didactic writer popular in America due to copyright/ circulation circumstances and efforts to reconcile the two countries, had many ideological differences with Walt Whitman, especially regarding aristocracy/social orders and conservatism. However, Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy, a text which Whitman owned, highlighted and may have even printed, employed the free verse form. It was not referred to as poetry by the author and was instead called “rhythmics.” Whitman appropriated this form, seeing it as the formal equivalent of his democratic philosophy. Some of Tupper’s poetry in standard form may have influenced Whitman, as Tupper’s “Are you a Great Reader?” is evocative of Whitman’s “Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?” Tupper uses some very Whitman-ian language, such as “I am untamed, a spirit free and fleet.” He mentions a “dull, grazing ox” which Whitman inverts with “Oxen that rattle the yoke and chain…what is it that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.” Apparently, Whitman’s lines sometimes intersect with Tupper’s in a dialogue that criticizes their “poetic commonplaces.” Early reviewers in England noticed and wrote about this connection.  

Whitman and Mass Culture

A quotations of Whitman was cited in a section of Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine in 2004 whose intention was to enhance their audience’s sense of self worth in connection with their bodies.  The quote is “If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.” Whitman is an especially useful writer to invoke for this purpose, as he always finds the other beautiful and connects them to himself/ his own sense of self worth.

Another popular culture reference to Whitman occurred in an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman entitled “The Body Electric.” Whitman is dramatized in this episode, as he travels to Colorado Springs where he is welcomed as a poet but it’s understood that he “prefers the company of men.” Dr. Quinn worries that her adopted son, who has been employed to interview Whitman alone for the town’s newspaper, will find himself in a sexual quagmire. Her fears are eventually dissipated, but Whitman apparently disturbed by her intolerance. This adaptation is useful because it helps us conceptualize contemporary perspectives on Whitman and his gay sexuality.

Van Morrison has a track called “Rave On, John Donne” in which he cites Whitman among other writers: Donne, Yeats, Omar Khayam, and Kahlil Gibran. He urges them to “rave on” through “industrial, atomic, nuclear” periods and visualizes Whitman “nose down in the wet grass,” and as someone who “fills the senses on nature’s bright green shady path.” This corroborates the popular conception of Whitman as a nature poet and demonstrates that respect for nature is something that extends across generational lines and remains consistently relevant, contrasted against the technological/machine industry of our and previous times against which these writers must “rave.” 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Contemporary Views on Whitman

This entry focuses on three critical and contemporary perspectives of Whitman and help to illustrate Whitman’s perception among his contemporaries.

For the reviewer, great poets embody a national identity by their poetry, and that it’s informed by the actions of his or her country from the past, and the conglomeration of uniquely country-specific experiences. Interestingly, he thinks of Whitman’s identity and poetics in terms of a long, sprawling list, and he is adapting Whitman’s prose/poetry style to suit the expansive subject. In a way, he is suggesting that Whitman himself is too large to encompass normal prose, and he adjusts his form fittingly. He sees Whitman as a break from tradition, from the practice of ornamentation and “ready-made models,” whose writing eschews these in order to focus on “the very meanings of the works of nature and compete with them.” He ascribes to Walt, as a “new poet,” the ability to pack within his poem a pervasive, eternal, “fearless,” and provocative element that if heeded, allows the reader to “tread the half invisible road where the poet is standing fearlessly before.” If what Walt says is true, poetry has a “subtler range” than large actions and events as exemplified in Homer and Shakespeare.

The same review mentions Tennyson and that in spite of all his “ennui and aristocracy,” he is still a real poet. Yet, the contrast between the two poets is startling. The reviewer intimates that the moment of publication of LoG signifies a break from tradition, and he feels on the cusp of a liminal space. He, however, is not certain whether history will judge Whitman’s “haughty” efforts as the “most lamentable of failures or the most glorious of triumphs.”

Rufus Griswold unleashes a bitter diatribe against Whitman and his poetics. He states that LoG adheres to the principles of “metempsychosis,” which is apt for him since he declares that only a man could have written it if he were in possession of the soul of a donkey. Griswold declares that there is no “wit” in the poem, so he probably conceives of poetry in the Augustan manner, as a highly wrought, traditionally/classically-inspired form that utilizes rhetorical devices to illuminate some human concept/essential truth. This highly-wrought form, in combination with the Latin inscription with which ends the review, suggests he doesn’t think poetry should be for the common people. He claims that these dissidents are finding a way into the Academy and “leaving a foul odor.” There is no place for new forms; revising or updating them is “licentious.”

Much of the language for the reviewer uses is excessively passionate: vile, shameful, abhor, abuse, etc. A lot of the things we neutrally or positively associate with Whitman cause problems for Griswold: his “vagrant wildness”; “beastly sensuality.” This initial problem is strange considering how frequently questing/vagrancy has appeared as a trope for classic/traditional poetry. To the other charge, Whitman would not think beastly pejorative, as he seeks to learn from the animals. He thinks Whitman, and the type of person that he represents, ill for “having no secrets, no disguises,” employing the Renaissance courtier aesthetic that poetry should disguise our urges; Whitman’s indulgences “rot the healthy core of social virtues.” For Grisworld, Whitman’s speech should be suppressed as it is tantamount to crime, which increases when the “exposure of their vileness is attended with too great indelicacy.”

In this essay, Griswold obsesses on single points, instead of seeing the big picture. He is disgusted with an unconventional method of living, and so much so, that he attacks that way of life, and we are supposed to take that over anything by way of actual criticism. In fact, not one word of LoG is even mentioned in this ostensible review. The review ends with: Peccatum illud horribile, inter Christianos nos nominandum”; that horrible crime not to be named among the Christians. I believe this is a reference to sodomy, and a probable basis to his dislike of Whitman.

The reviewer is unaware of how to proceed in his article; there isn’t even an author’s name attached to LoG.  Structurally, the reviewer doesn’t quite know where to start, as the poem doesn’t contain any formal meter, but instead is an amalgamation of “common-place remarks, aphorisms, and opinions.” This new method of composition develops the author’s “undisciplined power” and seems to convey emotional resonance, as the reviewer is confounded by and impressed with the “perfect pictures” of the prose-poems. The review is short because the reviewer does not yet possess sufficient poetic vocabulary to comment upon the work. He is confounded by the “kaleidoscopic, grotesque” shifting of images and changes, and informs us that possibly the author only can explain what these mean, as it is indeed a “curiosity of literature.” He ends by stating that the author, who he presumes is the fellow depicted on the frontispiece, is a “remarkable blade” among the leaves of grass.

He describes the book as “singular”—a term which I’ve noted several times so far in brief perusals of other reviews. This iteration confirms our suspicion of Whitman’s radical departure from poetic norms of his time.