Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Muriel Rukeyser

I did not feel that Rukeyser and Whitman used the word "you" in the same manner. While Whitman stresses the sameness in you and the voice of the poem, Rukeyser is talking to you as a separate person from the voice of the poem. The exploration of death in this poem is a much more direct and specific image than the one that Whitman presents to us. I think in many ways this poem does not fully come to terms with death. At the end of the poem Rukeyser writes, "...fanatic cruel legend at our back and / speeding ahead the red and open west, / and this our region, / desire, field, beginning. Name and road, / communication to these many men, / as epilogue, seeds of unending love." I thought this meant that until the deaths of these men are communicated to the world as reality and fact instead of legend there cannot be peace in their deaths. To me and epilogue signifies and unfinished story and attempt to tie up the lose ends and maybe this poem is a way of giving those men an ending in their story but I'm not sure if its nearly as fulfilled as Whitman's resolution.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

9/11 Poetry & Whitman

One of the poems I felt was able to touch on collective loss similarly to Whitman was the poem "Photograph" by Wilslawa Szymborska. This poem focused on the way in which loss becomes trapped like a photograph in our memory saying, "The photograph halted them in life, / and now keeps them / above the earth toward the earth." Like Whitman, there is this emphasis on the link between the sky and the ground. This line is making an obvious reference to the the towers falling towards earth put also seems to allude to the lost lives existing now above the earth (in the heavens) looking down on the ground of earth.

The poem ends with, "I can do only two things for them- / describe this flight / and not add a last line." This presents a similar struggle that Whitman has with coping with loss. Whitman writes, "O how shall i warble myself for the dead one there I loved? / And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone? / And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him, I love?" It is a search for the appropriate gesture and language to remember a loss-the collective loss of thousands of people or the individual loss of one person. What is the right way to artistically represent a loss for the masses through a media like poetry? Especially because Whitman's idea of poetry was that it was only poetry if it was going to be read by a mass audience so how does one discuss such a serious topic in this matter? I think his poem is a narrative investigation of this question.

The conclusion both of these poets seems to come to is that the poem must not end in that the poem itself is the memory of the loss. So that by not adding the last line, that memory will be immortalized. Whitman says that, "I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring" so that the act of mourning is like the seasons-no matter how far off they seem they always return and always exist.

Both these poems speak to dealing with loss, however, Whitman is much more thorough in his poem. He seems really concerned with the natural way to express loss because although these feelings come on there own, "naturally", they never feel natural-loss always has a very uneasy and confusing twist to it. So Whitman is in search of "What shall my perfume be for the grave of him, I love?... These and with these and the breath of my chant, I'll perfume the grave of him I love."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Whitman project

I found the assignment directed at Whitman and his peers to be very interesting. I would like to further develop this topic but looking more specifically at one of his peers we have not discussed in class. I think a comparison between Herman Melville and Walt Whitman, specifically that of Moby Dick, would allow for an exploration of the ways in which both these authors are able to extensively catalog details, experiences, and occurrences to engage the reader in an investigation of American life; more specifically, maybe an investigation of American democracy which was a prevalent theme in Leaves of Grass as well as in Moby Dick.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tweet of the Week: Martin Tupper

Martin Farquhar Tupper was a writer and poet born in London in 1810. He is most famous for being the author of Proverbial Philosophy, a series of long didactic moralisings. Between 1856 and 1860, eight reviews, 7 of them from England, of Leaves of Grass mention Tupper in connection with Whitman.

Whitman in Popular Culture

1962 Old Crow Whiskey 
Blades O' Grass Cigar Box
Twilight Zone Episode Entitled: I Sing the Body Electric 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Critical Reception

The three critical responses I choose to look at all seem to have read Leaves of Grass as this sort of absurd and unexplainable piece of writing that goes against all classic characteristics of what poetry is. However, despite this opposition to what the critic would normally find to be aesthetically pleasing, there is a sense of beauty that exists, and is even perpetuated, by the critics inability to pinpoint what exactly it is. These three critics seem to focus completely on the images created through Whitman's expansive cataloging. For instance, one of the anonymous critics wrote, "Many of the lines are such perfect pictures in themselves, that an artist might draw them without reference to any other material, and produce pictorial compositions" (The Merchant's Magazine and Commercial Review 34). The most important thing seems to be the beauty that lies in the imagery the poem creates. This is due in large to the fact that these critics are working on the assumption that a poems beauty is created through the classic ideas of poetry structure in addition to the images created and they seem to be portraying Leaves of Grass as a success in spite of instead of because of the unusual structure.

Another critic says that "They are destitute of rhyme, measure of feet, and the like, every condition under which poetry is generally understood to exist being absent; but in their strength of expression, their fervor, hearty wholesomeness, their originality, mannerism, and freshness, one finds them a singular harmony and flow, as if by reading, they gradually formed themselves into a melody, and adopted characteristics peculiar and appropriate to themselves alone"(The London Weekly Dispatch). This critic explains exactly what it is without even realizing it. Instead of Leave's of Grass being beautiful despite is lack of normal poetic structure, this critic shows that this is actually the exact reason it is beautiful.

Whitman's contemporary critics that I read placed much of the volumes importance within the framework of knowing who Walt Whitman is and only touch on the thematic significance of the book. One anonymous critic writes, "He will soon make his way into the confidence of his readers, and his poems in time will become pregnant text-book, out of which quotation as sterling as the minted gold will be taken and applied to every form and phase of the inner or the outer life; and we express our pleasure in making the acquaintance of Walt Whitman, hoping to know more of him in time to come." So on one hand, some of these critics are aware of the destined greatness of Whitman but no one is able to specify reasons for this. The underlying themes of the book and the meaning beyond Whitman as the narrator weren't discussed very much.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tweet of the Week: Frances Wright

Frances Wright was a Scottish American Immigrant born in 1795. She moved to the US in 1818 at the age of 23 and spent 2 years traveling the country. She was a writer, lecturer, feminist, abolitionist, and social reformer. She co-founded The Free Inquirer newspaper, wrote for various other journals, and founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee in 1825. Walt Whitman great admired her.