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.


  1. I had never really even paid attention to the physicality in 'What Work Is' in those lines you mentioned, until now.

  2. Like Miguel, I also liked your point about the physicality of Levine that seems similar to Whitman. I'd even say that his descriptions, like the scenery of the poem, are much more industrial and focused on the lines of things as well as the blurring of such lines in comparison to Whitman.

  3. Obligatory Hanley-esque Comment:

    Excellent + (snippet from your blog post + ellipses = Excellent note of the differences in tone... it wouldn't be fitting for a "kosmos" to sound unsure of itself, no? ;)


    As for wiping... Whitman does have this line in "SoM" where he says that he keeps "just as delicate around the bowels". He just needed Levine to do the wiping. See? This marriage is totally going to work out, lol.