Friday, May 18, 2012

Final Project

Am I indecisive? Very well then I am indecisive...I contain multitudes. After two aborted project ideas explored in this very blog, plus a scrap of a poem and an inspiration for a collage (I hereby declare that collage is the most appropriate visual medium for Whitman), I will share a smidgen of what I learned from/about Whitman this semester, which is in many ways a reminder of what I already knew, and I think he would appreciate that. I return to the blog form we have used all semester.

Through Leaves of Grass, I was inspired to attempt writing and drawing again, and claiming my own knowledge by my own authority again. It was refreshing to read a poem, and a sprawling one at that, like "Song of Myself," and feel confident that I can share it with my loved ones who are not English majors, which is a rare treat these days. It was often frustrating to read about such physicality and spontaneity and yet be constantly cramped within "houses and rooms," whether working at my office job, commuting or studying. I'm sick of feeling like the twenty-ninth bather and I have a lot of loafing to catch up on this summer.

As I was reviewing the preface to Leaves of Grass again, Whitman's enthusiasm for and confidence in everyday American people made me think of the Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive, which I attended a couple years ago with my brother. There were so many more people than expected that all transportation routes to the National Mall were clogged for hours and we had to take a taxi to Arlington and walk. I missed the epic battle between Cat Stevens's "Peace Train" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," which would have disappointed me more had I not been greeted by all this:

 Here are our fellow Americans, and in case you can't read the print on their signs, they're calling for peace, hugs, civic engagement, ideas instead of insults, an end to hyperbolic accusations, patience, excellence, good spelling, and the metric system. We came from all over the country to affirm our independence from polarizing politics, our goodwill, and to tease each other a bit.

While I was sitting here, preoccupied and grumpy for much of the last couple years, these photos of one of my best memories were sitting here, too, just waiting to be rediscovered and shared, and Whitman was the catalyst for that rediscovery.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"That rug really tied the room together"

I'm unfamiliar with the Coen Brothers' work, for the most part, although I've enjoyed "The Big Lebowski" a couple times and watched most of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Do we get White Russians on Thursday? Pretty please?

I've seen a fairly random assortment of movies, owing partly to the fact that I seldom went to the theater as a kid, and almost everything that wasn't rated G was suspect in our household. One time my cousin was babysitting me and put "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" on, and I freaked out when that one guy pulls the beating heart out of that other guy. It's all fun and games until someone's heart gets ripped out. Sometimes I would end up watching whatever my parents had on, if they let me, which is why I suspect I'm one of few people my age to see "Being There." There were a few videos we had at home which I ended up watching over and over and memorizing (yes, videos, keep in mind I'm 30). If you want quotes from Mary Poppins, Muppet Treasure Island, or Cool Runnings, I'm your woman. Keen observations about cinema, not so much.

Eventually, my mom wanted someone to watch "The Full Monty" with, so I finally saw my first R-rated film (still a favorite, by the way). A few years later and "Amelie," "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Fight Club," and "Monsoon Wedding" made their way into my life, so I guess this is happily ever after.


All this rambling is to say that I'm not confident about discussing film, and even though I've been exposed to the Coen brothers, it's been a while and I don't have anything much to say about them without watching more. I've forgotten most of what I saw in the first place. I recognize that The Dude is a loafer, and can appreciate the Whitman connection there, but have nothing to add to the discussion. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Coens' connections to Whitman, though. Especially if you give me a White Russian.

Anyone else remember this?

Every time I listen to "This Land is Your Land," I get parts of this JibJab parody stuck in my head.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Levine and Whitman

1) I have many anthems, but Beck's "Hell Yes" never fails to perk me up.
2) Peacock Alley, Lee Plaza Hotel. I can't seem to embed the photo here, but it's the one with the cracked mirror and graffiti saying "My heart is missing." I'll try again later.
3) My worst work experience was when a former coworker pretty much had it out for me. It turns out she had it out for everyone at one time or another, and I complained to my manager and things worked out. This is the very edited version of all this, because I don't want to speak ill of others on a public forum, and also we ended up getting along nicely after this was resolved, so that is how I most like to remember her.

The official questions:
1) My first impression is that the tone of "What Work Is" and "My Grave" seems to be more personal and subtle than Whitman's in "Leaves of Grass," although I suppose I should consider several of Whitman's other poems as well. Hmm. There's even a quality of uncertainty in Levine's tone that I don't get from Whitman--not in the voice itself, but in what the circumstances communicated are. I don't know when I read "What Work Is" whether the narrator will ever tell his brother how much he loves him. I can see perhaps a resemblance between "When Lilacs..." and "My Grave," in the sense of observation that's at work, though there are no thrushes or stars in "My Grave;" it is nothing like the epic scope of the former. I'd like to return to this when I've had a chance to reread some more. In general, I think they have more in common with themes than tone, aside from using the second person.

2) I think there is a shared physicality between Whitman and Levine, such as when Levine says "Feeling the light rain falling like mist / into your hair, blurring your vision" in "What Work Is." In "My Grave," the phrases "new-mown grass" and especially "my tongue / that stroked and restroked your cheek" certainly call "Leaves of Grass" to mind. If Whitman is the poet of the body, Levine is definitely channeling that role when he refers to wiping. Wiping! Or worse, not wiping. Even Whitman didn't go there.

I was also reminded of "Leaves of Grass" when Levine wrote "the hope that the poor / stalked from their cardboard houses / to transform our leaders, that our flags / wept colored tears until they became / nothing but flags of surrender." I think of Whitman as proudly promoting the American way of life (ideally and of the time) while simultaneously challenging it; wanting the best from our country and demanding it of our leaders on behalf of (or demanded by) common people, like Levine describes, is in keeping with that idealistically American spirit.

I have more to add, but unfortunately I also have an eye appointment to get to.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rukeyser: The Book of the Dead


Comparing Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" with Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," I think the approach to the relationship between poet and reader differs between the two. The "you" Whitman refers to in his poem includes spring and the thrush, but mostly is death itself, while the "you" of "The Book of the Dead" seems to be fellow Americans, and particularly young, working, western Americans, such as in the lines "you workers and hope of countries" and "you young, you who finishing the poem / wish new perfection and begin to make."

Rukeyser elicits personal memories with godlike authority as she addresses Americans, invoking "all your influences, your home river, / constellations of cities, mottoes of childhood, / parents and easy cures, war, all evasion's wishes." The relationship to the reader is initially much more direct in this poem, but I think that the reader of "When Lilacs..." is meant to identify with the "I" more than with the "you," and assuming this, the feeling of a personal connection to the events described is possible, and the two poems are not unrelated in their vision of national identity and loss.

Both "The Book of the Dead" and "When Lilacs..." appear to come to some version of resolution or hope in the aftermath of national tragedy. In the last stanzas of "When Lilacs...," Walt is finally able to leave the door-yard and cease his song, having journeyed with death and appreciated its place in life and even its own beauty. He is comforted somewhat by his memories and by the assurance that he is not alone in mourning. I am less confident of the presence of resolution at the end of "The Book of the Dead" because it seems in part to depend on the remembrance of the story; forgetting and silence "can never be done." Rukeyser's choice to end the poem with "seeds of unending love" in honor of the dead, however, presents the potential for healing.