ANTHEM: Glenn Branca!
I worked at a certain SF newspaper and wrote unpublishable things that were published. They stationed me in a gloomy grey cubicle away from everybody, but one that had a nice view of amtrak coming and going, as well as a large and amorphous construction site, all of which reminded me of some apocalyptic scene. I hardly spoke to anyone there for four months. I just entered this little hovel, made up some bull shit about a band by using descriptive words like CATHARTIC and e-mailed it to an editor. I don't know if this is a best of worst job experience. Probably the former.
1) How would you describe the speaker's tone in these two poems? How would you describe the tone of the speaker in Whitman's poems?
"What Work Is" and "My Grave" are colloquial, stormy ("forget you"), and also calm, dejected, and wistful. With the former, in particular, you tend to pick up on this overwhelming earthiness, for lack of another word. It is incredibly down to earth, and though I suppose that Whitman is similarly down to earth, so much so that he is unduly mad for it to be in contact with him, the two are certainly different.
2) While reflecting on the Whitman poems that we've read, and looking at these two Levine poems, are there any similar/different themes or issues that you can point out?
"My Grave" is interesting in relation to Whitman, for as we know, Whitman regularly speaks of his own immortality in terms of his poems themselves. We engender him with life anew by reading Leaves of Grass, by becoming his comrades ("It avails not, time nor place--distance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence"). Whitman's unfaltering conviction that he will be read in the future is staggering, obnoxious, and totally awesome. In contrast, in "My Grave," Levine presents us with a forlorn grave site with his name misspelled (which arguably refers to a lack of conviction about his legacy as a poet, among other things), and you become immediately aware of this dejection in the poem, which perhaps we haven't observed save in "Lilacs." However, even in "Lilacs," that feeling is so abstracted most of the time that it doesn't feel completely real to me. Death for Levine seems somewhat uneventful and common, whereas Whitman, however he may feel about death, treats death in his poems as something rather grand and mythic.
3) What do you think are some of the conclusions/final sentiments that the speakers in Levine and Whitman's poems come to in the end?
When Levine ends his poem by stating "this is an ordinary grave" I think he is more or less entering into communion with all the dead and all the living. Whitman often seems to do the same.
4) What direction(s) do you feel Whitman and Levine look towards (past, present, future)? Why?
Levine, as mentioned, certainly looks toward the past, and Whitman toward the future. I think you have to have bizarre optimism and vitality to always be looking toward the future as Whitman does, and it seems more natural to look toward the past or the present. I think Whitman doesn't look toward the past as much because he more or less re-created himself around 30.
5) What image of America do you get from the poems of Levine and Whitman?
America is made of multitudes for Whitman, all good things, the good and bad, come what may, unconditionally. Whitman's optimism, I think, has to do with an American optimism about the future, about the opportunities available. But in Levine we come across "a man is waiting who will say, “No, we’re not hiring today,” for any reason he wants."