Archive for January, 2013

Body Positive Whitman

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

So as we were wrapping up class earlier this morning, a thought struck me and I couldn’t help but laugh.

I feel like we’ve all (hopefully) seen the sexiestmanontheplanet wonderful Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” memes on the interwebs. I used the idea (and The Gos man himself) for a body positive nonfiction final project last semester (you may have seen the posters plastered around campus the last week or two of the semester) and now, I not only think they’re hilariously wonderful, I randomly connect academia to memes. Problematic, right? Possibly. But today, it was absolutely awesome.

Example for the unfamiliar:

Hey Girl Gosling Fall 2012

So back to the point: Walt Whitman.
Gay, straight, tall, short, man, woman, skinny, fat, hairy, hairless, smelly, not smelly: EMBRACE YOURSELF! You are large, you contain multitudes! You are everything you desire, desire to be, and more! Whitman’s acceptance of this is refreshing and something that I feel needs to be practiced and believed by everyone. Loving yourself can ultimately be a religious experience (example: meditation and yoga encourages one to let go to be able to accept and love flaws or, better yet, what society convinces you are flaws…like armpits! haha.) I’ve known plenty of people who are turned off by his love and admiration for himself, but why? At the time, the body was a sinful, shameful thing. At this current time, we are constantly surrounded  by images of what OTHERS define as “beautiful” and we are merely (use any put down word you’d like here) peasants. We should look to Whitman for (specifically lines 526-528) a confidence booster. I’m divine, my smell is MINE and is perfect for ME, my head is more than others because it is mine, it is knowledge, understanding, peace, and love (all words I’d associate with church and the bible.) He’s like THE FATHER of the “Hey Girl” meme movement!

Whitman knows he owns it and thinks you should too:

Body Lovin' Whitman

This blog entry might seem a tad forced…but establishing connections is important, right? Connection: MADE.

More Cow Bell!

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

This semester is my first in the Music History sequence as part of my Music Major here, and something that was focused on in our Grout was how citizens of the classical world believed that music and poetry were essentially the same thing. A piece of performance art was not generally complete without music, text, and dance. Recitals for solo instruments existed as well, but true entertainment to be appreciated was multifaceted and comprehensive in the arts.

So, when I first began reading with the care that one usually has when first starting a text, I paid a lot of attention to rhythm and musicality. I marked a few lines for their vowel lengths, and others for their stress/emphasis. But I also established that I would never finish this poem in any decent amount of time with that much attention, so I stopped (I will go back, though. The human brain functions on and in patterns, and I’m determined to figure out Walt’s.) and from there, certain lines stood out to me. I really want to focus on just one today, though, and it’s the one I spoke about in class.

This line still warms up my ears just reading it or replaying it in my head, I just love it so much. Line 77 (pg 10):

“Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.”

The repetition of the “l”s in the first five words, tapping against the back of your teeth? It reminds me of the first lines of Nabakov’s Lolita, “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Yum, right?

Then, you’ve got your “the hum of”. Mph. It is as if the line is just telling you to take your time, really “lull” yourself into it – the hummm of. And did you notice that the “v” of “of” sets you right up for “valved” two words later? I’m not saying Whitman did all of this on purpose, but isn’t it nice when you’ve got a musician or a poet improvising (because isn’t that generally how anything that needs to be created is created in the first place?) and whatever they create just ends up perfectly pleasing (or not pleasing)?

The way he keeps this line right on the tip of your tongue, moving towards your lips every few words is just artful in my opinion. And the “v”s. Really? Is it weird how much I love this? It just feels so good in my mouth! It’s a warm line.

So… that was me “fan-girling” over a single line of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”.

Walt Whitman Bridge

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Is an actual place on I-76 in Delaware that connects New Jersey and Philadelphia.  Walt Whitman and his work has been so significant that people have wished to commemorate his honor with structures that we imagine to be as everlasting as his influence.  What made Whitman so significant is easy to see but sometimes hard to describe.

In class today we touched on a lot of aspects of Walt Whitman’s life and work.  We learned the details of his biography including his relationships and geography.  Kristina opened discussion on some major topics like mind/body relationships, epiphany, and sexuality.   Our classmates mentioned gender polarity and indulged Whitman’s homoeroticism that lead us to explore the roles of our bodies, the transcendence of our souls, and the manifestations of our desires.  I found a few quotes that we missed in class that I think have a lot to say about these topics:

“Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex, Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.”
“I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is…”


One subject we didn’t cover in as much detail was the “witness”.  I find myself thinking about what it means to be a witness—to the world, to my community, to my loved ones, and to myself.  A witness holds account of things going on around them.  Based on our discussion about Whitman’s life and his experience witnessing the pain of soldiers—an experience that left him somewhat emasculated and significantly more observant— I am left to wonder how witness plays a role in our reading of the work.  Are we the intended audience, are we witnessing Whitman, or is he witnessing himself, or expecting us to witness him witnessing himself in order to inspire us to call attention to ourselves?  In my opinion it’s just his ploy to get us thinking about it

Song of Myself  is an obvious celebration of human life. Whitman’s poem provides an epic commentary on humanity as a whole and as an individual at the same time.  This is the unity we talked about.  He explores beauty and nature through the eyes of a conscious witness. It is evident in the evolution of Whitman’s writing that his experiences influenced his art.   Eventually we are left to wonder who is to bear witness to whom or to what confused by speaker and point of view.  In my opinion it’s just his ploy to get us thinking about the nature of wholeness and being which is, to me, a combination of sexuality, appreciation for nature, and giving witness or providing record.



Shared Themes between Whitman and the Inaugural Poem

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

I’m not sure if everyone was able to watch the Inauguration on Monday, but I actually had a chance to listen to the Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco, recite his poem “One Today” for the nation. As I was doing my reading of Whitman, I couldn’t help but notice some of the similar themes between the two works. Below is a passage of the poem that, for me, was particularly reminiscent of Whitman.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors, 

each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day: 

pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, 

fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows

begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper -

bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, 

on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives-

to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did

for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

Both poets seem to emphasize the theme of the “common man” in America, as well as the sounds and sights of nature that are shared by humanity. Blanco talks of the average American—the teacher and the grocery store clerk; Whitman, who also embraces what I learned is called Emerson’s “divine average,” also emphasizes the theme of the commonplace in America:

“This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This is the common air that bathes the globe.

It is for the illiterate…it is for the judges of the supreme court…

It is for the endless races of working people and farmers and seaman” (358-364)

I think that in both there is an inherent focus on the individual and individuals coming together to make up a nation. While Whitman talks of the common grass and the common air that binds humanity, Blanco talks of common experiences of “yawning into life” and the “rhythm of traffic lights.” In addition, the repetition of the word “one” in Blanco’s poem further emphasized his themes of democracy and a shared or “common air.” Throughout the poem, he references “One today,” “One sun,” “One ground,” and “One sky.” At such a patriotic occasion, it is only appropriate that he would remind Americans of our solidarity. I do not think it is an accident that his poem ends with the word “together.”

I may be getting ahead with the theme of democracy and patriotism, but just thought I’d share my thoughts about how Whitman’s themes can be very relevant today.

Also, if you want to read the entire text of Blanco’s poem, you can access it here.

A Whitman Coincidence…

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

whitmanThis must be a week for Whitman coincidences. In class today, Katie mentioned she’d just come across a pop-up book related to our discussion about Walt Whitman and his visit to Chatham Manor during the Civil War. This afternoon, while trying to organize several boxes full of old books that our family has had in storage for a few years, I discovered a small stack of Scribner’s Monthly Illustrated Magazines. The first one I picked up was published in November, 1880— I opened it directly to this engraving of Whitman (page 48) and an article entitled Walt Whitman, by Edmund Clarence Stedman.

It was interesting to read this lengthy article (published as part of a series in Scribner’s on American poets of the 19th century), especially since it was written by one of Whitman’s American contemporaries—  Stedman was a poet, essayist, and critic (as well as a banker and scientist).

Stedman touches on many of the topics we discussed today in class. He makes several references to the sexual nature of Leaves of Grass (in its various editions), as well as Children of Adam as “… a trait of Whitman’s early work that most of all has brought it under censure. I refer to the blunt and open manner in which the consummate processes of nature, the acts of procreation and reproduction, with all that appertain to them, are made the theme or illustration of various poems…. It made the public distrustful of this poet, and did much to confine his volumes to the libraries of a select few…. The fault was not that he discussed matters which others timidly evade, but that he did not do it in a clean way, — that he was too anatomical and malodorous withal…. His pictures were sometimes so realistic, his speech so free, as to excite the hue and cry of indecent exposure…”

Stedman also considers Whitman’s choices regarding writing style: “He sees that he has been feeling after the irregular, various harmonies of nature, the anthem of the winds, the roll of the surges, the countless laughter of the ocean waves. He tries to catch this under-melody and rhythm. Here is an artistic motive, distinguishing his chainless dithyrambs from ordinary verse, somewhat as the new German music distinguished from folk melody….” Stedman, on one hand, seems to criticize Whitman for the narrowness in his theories on metrics and form, noting that, “Whitman’s irregular, manneristic chant is at the other extreme of artificiality, and equally monotonous. A poet can use it with feeling and majesty; but to use it invariably, to laud it as the one mode of future expression, to decry all others, is formalism of a pronounced kind.”

In the last section of the article, Stedman even touches on Whitman’s ‘serious man crush’ on Abraham Lincoln. He describes hearing Whitman deliver a lecture on Abraham Lincoln. “His reminiscences of the martyr President were slight, but he had read the hero’s heart, had sung his dirge, and no theme could have been dearer to him or more fitly chosen…. His delivery was persuasive, natural, by turns tender and strong…. Something of Lincoln himself seemed to pass into this man who had loved and studied him.

He concludes: “…Of our living poets, I should think him most sure of an intermittent remembrance hereafter, if not of a general reading. Of all, he is the one most sure… to be now and then examined; for, in any event, his verse will be revived from time to time by dilettants on the hunt for curious treasures in the literature of the past…”

Images of the complete article can be viewed here.




Speech info

Monday, January 21st, 2013

The assessment rubric that I will use to grade the JumpStart speeches is now posted on the page Speech/Bridge Schedule in case you’d like to use it for speech planning and practice.

Also: why am I the only one posting on this blog??  Get on it.

Add me fixed (I think)

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Thanks to those of you who let me know that you were having trouble adding yourself to the blog.  I THINK I have fixed the issue, so give it another go!

Welcome to the Seminar on American Long Poems

Monday, January 14th, 2013

In many ways, the blog is like a long poem: it can transcend chronological logic; it is potentially sprawling and may or may not stay firmly on topic; it requires a lot of work; it can accommodate many voices and discourses and even different media; it could develop in fragments or a coherent trajectory; it is hard to predict exactly where it will end; it could be a work of genius or a flaming disaster.  Have at it.