Friday, May 18, 2012

Final Project

I wanted to explore the connection and influence between Walt Whitman and Kate Chopin, and decided to write a poem. This is the first creative piece of writing I've done in god knows how many years so it's nothing special. However I really enjoyed the challenge! I decided to make the poem a kind of narrative dialogue between Whitman and Edna (the protagonist from The Awakening), with their 'voices' taking it in turns for each stanza. It is clear from reading The Awakening that Chopin was influenced by Whitman and his ideas about freedom, equality, the self and sexuality. I created my poem with a combination of direct fragments of both Song of Myself and The Awakening, and mixed in some of my own stuff too.

So here it is:

Her fingers running through her loosened hair,
The awakened, trembling texture of her flesh.
The reflection sees her skin flushed bare,
I am a wicked specimen of the sex!

What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Left alone, celebrate yourself, and see yourself.
I celebrate myself and sing myself,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you

How luxurious it feels to rest thus,
With loosening clothes I lay and loaf.
The water laps not far from sight...
Urging, laughing, electric he approaches.

Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore...
We walk together to the whispering sea.
Breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Watching their brawny limbs shine gracefully.

Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly,
Such devilish thoughts that overwhelm my mind.
The spirit of God becomes a force upon me,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart.

Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome,
The men ever born are my brothers, and the women
My sisters and lovers. Among us God lays,
In the fields, the trees, the moss and the leaves.

Dancing along the beach comes the twenty-ninth bather,
I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land.
How still it was, with only the voice of the sea whispering...
To the always ready grave he lets loose my hand.

The runaway sun lowers on this naked summer night.
Walk with me, confide to me...for I am listening now and in the future.
There is nothing tonight that your hands cannot feel...
You are not to be tamed! You are untranslatable!

Class Evaluation:
Well, I've never experienced a class like it! I thought the whole blogging and internet stuff was pretty intimidating at first, but I'm completely converted now. I thought it was a really enjoyable way to learn. I think I could have been more engaged with the class and blogging but as an international student, this year has been pretty crazy for me, and sometimes school seemed a backdrop for everything else going on. But still, I really enjoyed the class and would love to continue studying Walt Whitman!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

project development

As I've explained in my last blog post, I know what research I want to do, and maybe this is preemptive but from what I've learnt so far I think I know what my conclusions will be. I really want to spend some time discovering the connections between Whitman and Chopin  (not just because it will help me for my English university dissertation) but because I'm really interested in understand both authors in their political and social contexts .. although both their works were original they didn't produce them in isolation of the world around them! Also, I think that seeing how one writer influences others (and the extent of this influence) is fascinating. 

The hardest part for me is trying to work out how I will show and present what I've learnt. I'm so used to writing essays I'm finding it tricky coming up with a different method, especially as I don't feel like I have any creative or artistic skills! I will keep thinking about it, but any ideas will be appreciated. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Motif Project

I'd like to develop and expand on my research of the motif of nakedness in the poem. This will most likely encompass the more general way Whitman presents and treats 'the body' in the poem.
For my English university I have to complete a very long dissertation and I'm hoping to write it about Leaves of Grass and Kate Chopin's The Awakening: structured around Whitman's influence on Chopin and also their differences. So exploring more fully the motif of nakedness and the body would help me answer my own question of how this motif is part of the radical sexual politics in the poem, and how this feeds into Whitman's construction of a new democratic subjectivity.

Musing on Peter Doyle

Peter Doyle was Walt's very intimate friend and lover, and played a huge part in getting Walt back on his feet and enjoying life again after his experiences of the Civil War. It seems like for the most part it was a happy relationship as they had great affection for each other. Many people have spoke about Doyle as though he was a muse as well as a friend. I think this is provocative and is a useful way of understanding how their relationship influenced Whitman's writing. However, just from my own instincts I can imagine Whitman may have not particularly liked the idea or concept of a 'muse' because for him every human being was equally worthy of admiration and giving inspiration. Nevertheless I think it's significant that it was a man who was the focus of so much affection and influence for Whitman, it's like he's re writing the original myth of a female muse, which is part of his wider project of redefining sexuality and politics in his poetry. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Let's bring back the word 'Tupperish'

Martin Farquhar Tupper. Ok so apart from his name there isn't much humour in his writing. Not that Whitman is exactly laugh out loud either. They were contemporaries; Tupper born to an upper class family in England who it seems wanted to educate the masses in the correct moral code, expressed in bite-sized truths. Obviously there are so many ways in which him and Whitman differ, but one quote from Tupper really caught my eye:

"Search out the wisdom in Nature, there is depth in all her doings."

I don't think Whitman could argue with that. I'm wondering if a connection can be made between the morality and spirituality of the two, of course presented in very different ways with varying points of subjectivity...

Walt is Everywhere

....except Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's my favourite tv programme and it was the first thing I thought of for this blog post because it's full of literary allusions and references...and Joss Whedon is just generally the best. But no, I found nothing. I feel like writing to him and demanding to know why he couldn't find space for Whitman.
But anyway, I moved on..sort of.

Van Morrison references Walt in the track 'Rave on John Donne' with the lines:

"Rave on, Walt Whitman, nose down in the wet grass
Rave on fill the senses
On nature's bright green shady path"

This seems like Whitman is primarily being understood as a poet of nature, vitality, life. In the context of the whole song which references many other poets and is about the power and influence of literature, Whitman is also utilized as a symbol/recognition of resistance to whatever is destructive to the soul and humanity.

Walt Whitman is also in Mass Effect 3. Brilliant.

My best friend has been trying to get me to play the Mass Effect games for years and I think this has finally persuaded me. The literature student in me immediately thinks of the double meaning of Whitman as an "Earth poet" - he's from the planet Earth and my god does he love rolling around in the earth. So I guess he's been understood again as a poet of nature, but also of social justice and responsibility for others...the purchase goes to the 'Whitman Foundation' which provides hospital care for those who can't afford it. It seems that he's symbolic of any kind of charity, generosity. Also according to my sources the point where it appears in the game is in a hospital bookstore and the main character has the choice of whether to buy it for his ill lady-friend. I'm not sure whether that implies his poetry is suitable for someone on the brink of death or to get them in a loved up mood. Probably both. 

Of course Whitman would be in The Notebook...

In the first scene whatshisname is exposed by his dad to have read Whitman all time when he was in high school. Basically this signifies he's a massive softy and is into the emotional and deep stuff, but he's also still a      proper man because it's still Whitman after all. So whatshername is proper attracted to him now. Then in the next scene she's old and can't remember anything, and he says to her "I know you feel lost right now, but don't worry, nothing is ever lost, or can be lost. The body, sluggish, aged, cold, the embers left from earlier fires shall duly flame again." This connects the present to their past love which she can't remember, but somehow through referencing Whitman everything becomes connected and makes both of them feel better - nothing, including their love, is ever really lost!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

tracking Walt's fingerprints in a song for occupations.

In the 1856 edition Walt has changed the name to “Poem of The Daily Work of The Workmen and Workwomen of These States” and is the 4th poem in the collection rather than the 2nd. The title change places the emphasis on the people who are performing the work, rather than the occupation itself. The change from 'song' to 'poem' implies more objectivity and observation rather than being celebratory. This is emphasized by the change from 'for' to 'of'. The choice of 'daily work' instead of 'occupations' is more inclusive, as it can encompass non-traditional work, such as criminality, which wouldn't be viewed as an occupation but it is still work in the sense that people often become criminals in order to survive.
In terms of the poem itself Walt made some telling changes....

"The President is up there in the White House" is changed to "The President is there in the White House"
The use of ‘up’ implies the President is metaphorically higher in terms of importance, worth etc, which Walt is trying to refute so it makes sense for him to take out the ‘up’. 

These exclamation marks have been added:

"The wife, and she is not one jot less than the 
The daughter, and she is just as good as the 
The mother, and she is every bit as much as the 

This gives it more urgency and is more charged with emotion, as if Walt is refuting someone directly who is suggesting that women are inferior.

In the 1860 edition Walt takes out the exclamation marks and it remains this way for all following editions. Maybe he wanted to have a more calm and serious tone, demanding more respect? 

in 1856 Walt adds: 
"The steam-engine, lever, crank, axle, piston, shaft, 
         air-pump, boiler, beam, pulley, hinge, flange, 
         band, bolt, throttle, governors, up and down 

and later

"Coal-mines, all that is down there, the lamps in the 
         darkness, echoes, songs, what meditations, what 
         vast native thoughts looking through smutch'd 

PLUS 8 more stanzas listing oil-works, lead-mines, copper-mines, stone-cutting, oakum, the cotton-bale, the four double cylinder press. 

This makes the poem reflect the current technological and industrial developments so that it doesn't seem like something of the past but is always renewing itself. This reminds me of the idea that the poem has its different 'versions' and that the first edition isn't necessarily the most true or correct edition. Walt wanted his poem to be constantly evolving and to be relevant to the present. So we can actually track the changes in the landscape of America through the changes in the poem: technological developments, growing mass industry, factory work as opposed to small scale artisan and craft work. If the poem was meant to be an interaction and a connection the reader, it would have to be edited so that it spoke honestly to working people. As the world changes so must the poem!

The title of the 1860 edition was changed to be number 3 in the 'Chants Democratic' section. This alludes to some of these additions (in bold) 

Male and Female!
I pass so poorly with paper and types, I must pass 
         with the contact of bodies and souls. 
American masses!
I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking 
         the touch of me—I know that it is good for you 
         to do so. 
 Workmen and Workwomen!
Were all educations, practical and ornamental, well 
         displayed out of me, what would it amount to? 
Were I as the head teacher, charitable proprietor, 
         wise statesman, what would it amount to? 

Also on the last page he adds in:

"The popular tastes and occupations taking precedence 
         in poems or any where, 
You workwomen and workmen of These States having 
         your own divine and strong life, 
Looking the President always sternly in the face, 
         unbending, nonchalant, 
Understanding that he is to be kept by you to short 
         and sharp account of himself, 
And all else thus far giving place to men and women 
         like you. 

O you robust, sacred! 
I cannot tell you how I love you;

All I love America for, is contained in men
and women like you."

These additions are some of the most striking so far. They seem to be more overtly political which connects to the new title. The masses are looking the President directly face to face, rather than him just being in the safety of the white house. It is a more forceful and combative image. This version of the poem does seem to have more urgency in it and I think it is crucial that Walt is connecting the notion of democracy with a poem about work. Does it imply that America's idea of democracy is unstable? It was published a year before the Civil War, so maybe Walt sees the role of this poem now to be not just about celebrating people of all occupations, but a call for the masses of America to realize that their democracy is under threat and that they are central to its defense. 
It is significant that this last section was taken out in the 1867 edition. Maybe after the destruction of the Civil War Whitman thought it too divisive. In the 1867 edition he also adds in:

"This is the poem of occupations;
In the labor of engines and trades, and the labor of 
         fields, I find the developments, 
And find the eternal meanings."

This is instead of listing as many occupations as he can. It seems like an attempt to not miss anyone or anything out and uniting the urban North and the rural South.  This edition does seem to be less political and more metaphysical. The name has been changed to "To Workingmen". I'm surprised that Walt didn't put an "and Workingwomen" as well, because I don't see how it would have fundamentally changed the essence of the title. Maybe because as 'work' in America became more about factories and large scale industry which were male-dominated workplaces Walt felt that the message of the poem was more relevant to men. 

This is emphasized by the addition of the male orientated:

"The men, and the work of the men, on railroads, 
         coasters, fish-boats, canals; 
The daily routine of your own or any man's life—the 
         shop, yard, store, or factory; 
These shows all near you by day and night—work- 
         men! whoever you are, your daily life!" 

The daily routine alludes to the increasing standardization and control of the workforce and the increasing alienation of work. This is perhaps the crux of the poem in this addition. Walt is imparting knowledge, a message, to the workingmen. He adds in:

“ List close, my scholars dear!”

to make sure that the reader realizes he should be learning something from the poem. It creates a more unequal and distanced relationship between the poet and the reader. 

The distance between Walt and the reader is made even more apparent in the 1881-82 edition where he removes this beginning section completely:
"COME closer to me;
Push close, my lovers, and take the best I possess!
Yield closer and closer, and give me the best you pos- 
 This is unfinished business with me—How is it with 
(I was chill'd with the cold types, cylinder, wet paper 
         between us.) 
Male and Female!
I pass so poorly with paper and types, I must pass with 
         the contact of bodies and souls. 
American masses!
I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking 
         the touch of me—I know that it is good for you 
         to do so."
The sensual and sexual aspects have been removed and Whitman no longer urgently speaks to us directly. So not only are we 'physically' less close to him and interact with him less, we are also less equally close to him and it seems like more of a standard poet-reader relationship. I'm not sure if I'm being too harsh on Walt, but I love this beginning part of the poem and can't really understand why he's taken it out. I'll blame it on old age...