Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FINAL PROJECT: Whitman Blackout Poetry

Walt was an active metaphysical soldier in the Civil War.  But why was he so obsessed with America and the unity of the nation?  If only he could see what it has now become.  Has the freedom he seemed to emotionally fight for, become nothing more than our meager attempt to separate ourselves from one another?  Seems quite paradoxical to say the least, that one’s individual liberation should cause a rift between himself and all of mankind.  But I suppose one cannot view the individual pursuit of intellectual power as a means of societal degradation.  Society is as society does, and Walt is the spawn of positive societal unification.  Perhaps in this sense, Lincoln quite literally becomes Whitman’s father or at least a “father-like” figure not only to Whitman, but to all of embryonic America as well.  Or maybe that’s just me making a ridiculous reach for meaning where there is none.  If this project has taught me one thing, it is that you cannot force poetry or creativity, and you cannot force insight or an innate acceptance of the inadequate fallen state of man.  By picking out the simplistic and often divergent themes found within the nooks and crannies of his journal entries, I feel as though I have captured some unique yet equally monumental characteristics that are crucial when attempting to define the essence of Walt.
This blackout poem was created from the Specimen Day’s entry titled “The Stupor Passes -- Something Else Begins.”  

the night
endured a crucifixion
defiance.  magnificent
the days of war,
the day of Lincoln’s death.
Little was said
silently to each other.
Talking about the importance of Lincoln feels like beating the crap out of a dead horse, but Lincoln was incredibly influential in Whitman’s life.  What I tried to highlight in this section reminds me slightly of what Walt talks about in “When Lilac’s Last...” because I’m highlighting both the beautiful and ugly aspects of war and death.  The Lilac’s poem is clearly a poem of mourning and the paradoxical intricacies of loss, and in this Specimen Days entry I find that Walt is saying Lincoln’s “crucifixion” can be seen as a catalyst for ending the days of war.  Lincoln attempted to unite the nation in his living years, but Whitman is pointing out that it’s quite possible for the significant impact of his death to ignite the beginning of the country’s subliminal 
desire to merge.

This blackout poem was created from the Specimen Day’s entry titled, “A Cavalry Camp.”

my window     dismounted; freed
with drooping heads and wet sides;
I see
on the hill
dripping, steaming,
half quench’d.
I sit long in my window and look on--
connected without much
This one could not have turned out any better.  As soon as I finished this one I couldn’t help but think of the 29th bather and the way he or she (as Whitman or the reader or whoever) is looking out the window, longing to be free and in a sense sexually emancipated.  Although the entry is originally about his observations of the men at work in the camp, I found a lot of imagery regarding water and wetness which has possible sexual connotations.  Fitting, seeing as Walt is often driven by the sensual aspect of both poetry and ultimately life itself.  Walt Whitman in my humble opinion encompasses the 29th bather, always striving to breech the walls of societal and mental captivation.

This blackout poem was created from the Specimen Day’s entry titled, “Some Sad Cases Yet.”

a strong man
brought low as I have ever seen
pulse pounding
in a partial sleep,     sleep
hot parade of 
yesterday.    the lives of men
are quite full
of despair
hope left them    
in a dying
This entry is all about injured and dying soldiers, but I wanted to draw a perhaps more universal theme from it.  In my blackout poem I chose to highlight the finality of death in correlation with the loss of hope.  This entry (similar to the first one) reminds me somewhat of “When Lilacs Last...” because there is a certain cosmic quality to it representative of the “kosmic” Walt.  Death may not simply refer to the physical act of passing, but rather may refer to an internal death or loss of blissful reverie.  War is haunting for those who see it and those who are physically in it, but for Whitman the concept of war itself is indicative of the seemingly despairing state of man when he finds himself approaching the end.
Now, Some Feedback:
Don’t want to sound like a suck up or anything, but I can’t think of anything I found to be problematic in this class.  The only thing that sucked was that it was only one day a week.  I’m probably the only one who would complain about something like that, and this is probably because I’m a nerd.  But this class is the only one that I genuinely enjoyed going to.  I’ve read Leaves of Grass before, but I’d be lying if I said I initially understood any of it.  Because of your class I will never look at much of life in the same way I did before, and it may be because I’m still young and incredibly impressionable, but I also think it’s because you taught us how to embrace and accept not only a poem but a poet into our lives as well.  I remember the very first day of class you said reading Whitman was like an acid trip only ten times better, and I never thought I’d say this but I couldn’t agree more.  So I guess I’d like to thank you for showing me the monumental world of Walt, and thank you for teaching me how to mentally embrace the intimate quality of true poetry.  You can bet on seeing me in one of your classes when I return from the land of hockey and bacon, that I guess is actually ham.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Directing the Westward Wind

I dare someone to undermine the work of the Coen brothers.  If Whitman is an autodidactic god, then the Coen brothers are his autodidactic minions whose Americanized movies mimic the self-subsistent qualities of an “All-American” emblem.   While Walt is undoubtedly the pioneer of Western American literature, the Coen brothers seem to take on the responsibility of pioneering the field of Western American movies (seeing as culturally speaking, new-age America is far more concerned with visible intellectual advancements, rather than monochromatic emotionally charged pieces of paper).  Although some would argue that the brothers focus simply on murder cases with dramatic twists that take place in America, Whitman himself would argue that “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem” and therefore focusing on certain trials and tribulations that occur within the states, is poetry in itself.  In a lot of ways the Coen’s highlight certain thematic structural qualities found in some of Whitman’s poems.  By emphasizing (as you have already mentioned in your blog) the Lebowski Loafer as well as the Insignificant Man, the Brady Bunch of Arizona and the Woman Warrior pregnant with the capitulating heroes and heroines of tomorrows America, the brothers are emphasizing the indicative nature of the American melting pot.
However, I find it important to note that their styles differ significantly, and this may be simply due to each writer’s choice of expression.  It is difficult to adequately compare movies and literature, because in my opinion there is something slightly more timeless in a poetic work of art.  Yet Whitman would undoubtedly be proud of the fact that the Coen brothers are attempting to carry on the fundamental legacy of Western American culture, and if any director/producer would be capable of capturing the essence of Walt on the big screen, it would surely be these guys.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Kosmic Grain of Sand: Levine v. Walt

I find it natural that a man with any kind of philosophical tendencies should contemplate the finality of death.  I think what can be most fascinating about poetry in general, is its ability to show the stylistic differences poets have when attempting to broach the same subject.  So when considering the possible thematic similarities of “Song of Myself” and “My Grave” one must note the incredible difference in tone that leads to each poet’s ultimately contrasting perception of mortality.  To put it simply, Levine strikes me as the no bullshit kind of poet, who essentially tells it like it is but in a metaphorical and aesthetically pleasing way.  Based on the straightforward and somewhat hopeless tone present in both of his poems, the reader can assume that death ultimately conquers the speaker, whereas in any of Walt’s poems that deal with the unknown he presents for the reader a more hopeful and “kosmic” point of view.

Whitman writes with a subtle hint of acceptance with whatever subject he is addressing, and when analyzing in particular “My Grave” I get a feeling of insignificance in regards to my life and its worth, rather than that connected feeling Walt often attempts to portray.  I guess to sum it up so as not to take up too much of your time, both poets adequately express their fears and longings, moral complications and egotistical issues, and it is truly difficult to say whether or not Levine’s existential defeats are as emotionally intoxicating as Whitman’s kosmic victories, and vice versa.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Honest Death

The crippling concept of being trapped in a moment of horror, perpetual mourning.  As Walt so eloquently states in When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d, “I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring” or in other words the mourning shall not end when the moment of crises has passed.  Traumatic moments are often less traumatizing than the memories of those moments, because memories fade when we wish they wouldn’t, and persist when we wish they’d cease to exist.  Whitman seems to be acknowledging that we live in a world in constant flux where death is the only constant, and therefore he almost pities death as the “sad orb” whose diffidence he accepts as well as its definitive terror.

One should confidently be able to say that Whitman’s poem is all encompassing and could easily suffice for the suffering portrayed in the 9/11 poems.  What gives Walt’s a universal quality that the others do not necessarily possess, is the ambiguity that troubles the reader when the poem ends.  In the 9/11 poems one can fairly easily pinpoint the focal point or theme being presented, whereas in Whitman’s poem we get no concrete sense of what he’s talking about other than the fact that he is troubled by the haunting presence of death and its many complications.  However, this is not to say that one poem is more or less effective than the other when attempting to grapple with situations that we may be emotionally incapable of grasping.  One poem in particular that struck me as possessing some qualities of Walt, was “Hum” by Ann Lauterbach.  Structurally speaking the poem is nothing like that of Walt’s, but in content it embodies the notion of combing both the beautiful with the bitter, and embraces death in the way that Walt walks with the thought and knowledge of death’s sadly beautiful existence.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Whitman Blackout

So to further elaborate upon my desire to explore Specimen Days, I must clarify what it is I actually propose to do.  As I have previously stated in some of my earlier blogs, the key to understanding the essence of Walt most likely lies within his ‘journal’ for lack of a better way to describe it, which is why I intend to understand the entries to the best of my ability.  Anyway to get to the point, I think it would be interesting to create a blackout poem from two of Whitman’s writings.  For instance I will take “A Cavalry Camp” and “Some Sad Cases Yet” and from each of these I will black out certain sentences and/or words in order to create a new poem using Whitman’s words.  Essentially I will be recycling certain phrases or compelling words from his entries in an attempt to find new meanings within them.  In doing this I may be able to subliminally pick out key terms that otherwise would have been left die amongst the countless meanings and terms found within each entry.  Thus, I am hoping to extract the essence of these two writings in order to shine a new and hopefully more progressive light upon the inner workings of Whitman.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Fever

Peter Doyle was Whitman’s most intimate companion, and undoubtedly his most influential personal muse.  I fear I do not even know where to begin when exploring the complexities of Walt’s love life, but it is certainly important (to say the least) to attempt to understand as best we can the ever-changing state of Walt’s more romantic disposition.

Not to say that Whitman has no ‘romantic voice‘ in  “Song of Myself” but the romance he expresses is one of an intimate self-connection, or a connection regarding the universal ‘you’ rather than any particular individual.  Yet when he begins to embrace the relationship between himself and Peter Doyle, the renditions of his poems such as “Calamus” take a more positive and personal turn.  Although some critics would argue against this notion and would attribute Walt’s less pessimistic outlook to that of his immediate group of friends, I personally would have to disagree.  It seems quite obvious that Whitman (although 45 or so when meeting 21 year old Pete) fell “smitten” for the first time which drastically altered his outlook on life.  I noticed that in the beginning of “Calamus” Whitman spoke insistently of love and death, and the ramifications of knowing neither on an intimate level.  However, the introduction of Doyle into his life must have impacted him beyond artificial means, for it seems as though he finds an acceptance with death, life, and longing in knowing that he has experienced something that supersedes the superficial world in which we reside.

It is true that Walt and Doyle connected on a multitude of levels, despite their significantly contrasting political views (Doyle serving for the Confederates and what not) but most importantly I believe Doyle gave Whitman a kind of hope he never believed to exist before.  I hate to sound cliche and I really hate to sound overly sentimental, but Whitman’s blossoming relationship with this young man seemed to rejuvenate his often downtrodden spirits, and provided him with the means necessary to continue to expand along with his work as an integral artist of the spoken word.

The Walt Whitman Experience

To truly know Whitman is to delve into the depths of his very being in a feeble attempt to  understand things that cannot be taught, but rather felt.  When I think of Walt and the essence of his works (and thus the essence of his very being) I am often reminded of the Jimi Hendrix song “Are You Experienced?” in which Jimi seems to ask for the listener to grab hold of him in this ruthless journey called life as they sink into a realm deeper than that of the material world, a realm no doubt filled with touch, understanding, and most of all, experience...

If you can just get your mind together
Then come on across to me
We'll hold hands and then we'll watch the sunrise
From the bottom of the sea

But first, are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

I know, I know you probably scream and cry
That your little world won't let you go
But who in your measly little world
Are you trying to prove that
You're made out of gold and, eh, can't be sold

So, are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

Let me prove you...

Trumpets and violins I can hear in distance
I think they're calling our names
Maybe now you can't hear them, but you will
If you just take hold of my hand

Oh, but are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful...

Anyway to get to the point of this tangent, I feel as though analyzing Specimen Days is crucial when it comes to understanding Walt.  However, instead of blogging about a different one each week or so, I would enjoy focusing specifically on one that I have already chosen so I can tear it apart and analyze it to the nth degree.

I may never be able to fully comprehend the complicated maze that is Walt Whitman, but I shall nonetheless strive to take the journey with Jimi and him into the enlightened world of the experienced.