Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Blogging Is


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."

Friday, April 20, 2012

The People? Oh Yes.

Read through the sections that have been made available from Carl Sandburg's The People, Yes, (they can be found here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BxkM7d2fD2tPRUFYZHJSdFg0cWc ) and take note of whatever strikes you as intriguing, provocative, brilliant, stupid, touching, offensive, etc.

1.     While reading these passages from Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes, ask yourself how you think Sandburg views his function as a poet (hint: look at section 4). Then, think about how these ideas ultimately define “The People, Yes” and its objective. Do these ideas differ from those that Whitman projects in poems like “Song of Myself” about his role as a poet? Does the objective of Leaves of Grass differ from the objective of The People, Yes? How so, or why not? (You might take a look at the concluding section of “Song of Myself.” Here, Whitman writes that he is “untranslatable.” What does Whitman mean when he says he is “untranslatable?” Would you consider Sandburg “untranslatable” from what you have read? Why or why not?)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

9/11 Poems

One defining feature of many of these 9/11 poems is anger, which is frankly somewhat upsetting to read since the poems, in that sense, don’t really provide you with a sense of collective loss or communion. Most of the poets here write about the tragedy in terms of cause, not the heavy, insufferable loss that followed. In this way they differ largely from “Lilacs.” But there are exceptions. The late Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, “Photograph from September 11,” asks some similar questions that Whitman raises in “Lilacs.” For instance, what can poetry do for the dead, and for the living, in the aftermath of a tragedy like the assassination of Lincoln or 9/11? How does one properly mourn the dead? “O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?” Whitman asks, while Szymborska decides to break off her poem in order to leave those that jumped from the towers floating. It’s the best that she can really do for them, she says.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Project: One Act Play

Using the Calamus poems, biographical information, letters, and interviews, I would like to write a one act play about Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle. It would be fairly experimental and surreal, taking place inside a street car that would stetch across the stage like a large room (it may come out looking rather Brechtian, or something). It would involve not only their meeting, but contain their whole relationship, the Civil War, the assassination of Lincoln, everything we’ve discussed in class, including homosexuality and comradeship, and with a focus on this relationship between poet and muse.   “We loved each other deeply, but there were things preventing that, too. I saw them,” Doyle said in an interview. I think this idea will be used as a general arch of the play. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Peter Doyle

The facts of Peter Doyle’s biography remain somewhat unclear. An Irish immigrant and son of a blacksmith, he enlisted with the Confederate Army at the out break of the Civil War. After the war, Doyle lived in Washington D.C., where he became a conductor on the city street cars. It was on such a street car that Doyle met Whitman. The encounter, as it is told by Doyle, occurred like the beginning of some racy Hollywood film: “We felt to each other at once...I thought I would go in and talk with him. Something in me made me do it and something in him drew me that way. He used to say there was something in me that had the same effect on him...We were familiar at once—I put my hand on his knee—we understood.” From then on, the two were deeply in love, and despite the fact that, in the last years of Whitman’s life, they fell out of touch, the affection lasted until Whitman's death.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Project Bryant

I would like to further examine the differences and similarities between Whitman and his contemporaries, and in doing so, come to have a better grasp of what the poetic conventions were of the time, and the kind of culture that indirectly built up those conventions. I would like to look at William Cullen Bryant in particular, who became something of a celebrity by the time he died in 1878, and represented a certain status quo. Bryant interests me because, for one, he was considered a prodigy, publishing his first book of poetry, a political satire called Embargo, at the age of thirteen. This differs widely from Whitman, who didn’t publish until his thirties. Bryant was also a fierce editor of his work and spent an inordinate amount of time editing and revising poems before publication. I would like to see how this compares to Whitman’s editing process, and consider how this might have made their poetry different. Also, Bryant wasn’t interested in “American-ness” and this is well-worth looking into further. Using his biography, newspaper writings, poems, and whatever else, I’d ultimately like to come to some vague idea about what kind of person he was, how he thought, what he believed, and so forth. I suppose my initial question would be something like: How did William Cullen Bryant's socio-economic background, moral/religious/political convictions, and editing process influence his poetry, and what does this say about the aesthetic/intellectual/moral status-quo of the 19th Century and Leaves of Grass?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Real War

“Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors...the real war will never get in the books....Its interior history will not only never be written—its practicality, minutiae of deeds and passions, will never be even suggested.”

--from The "Real War Will Never Get in the Books"

Whitman is talking about the real war—the real stories from that war, the real people—and acknowledging the fact that none of that will ever make it into history. He says that it is perhaps best that way. It's true that our knowledge of conflicts of the past, including the Civil War, comes in the form of causes and consequences, number of wounded and killed, so-and-so battle took place at so-and-so time and place, etc. However, I don't think Whitman gives himself enough credit as a poet. What he says calls to mind a poem, “The Fallen Majesty,” by W.B. Yeats:

Although crowds gathered once if she but showed her face,
And even old men's eyes grew dim, this hand alone,
Like some last courtier at a gypsy camping-place
Babbling of fallen majesty, records what's gone.

The lineaments, a heart that laughter has made sweet,
These, these remain, but I record what's gone. A crowd
Will gather, and not know it walks the very street
Whereon a thing once walked that seemed a burning cloud. 

In this poem, Yeats elaborates on what the poet does, namely, "record what's gone." I think some of Whitman's poems from the war, "The Wound Dresser," for example, do record the real war, and so it is not lost.