Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Be sure to check out the readings of each poem by Ginsberg as well. They feel very different when heard as opposed to read.
Text of A Supermarket in California - here
Monday, April 23, 2012
Very cool selections from Carl Sandburg! He certainly is the poet of the common person, the working man, our universal and shared experience. In the first section of The People, Yes, the poet speaks of the Tower of Babel from the book of Genesis. For those unfamiliar with this tale: a unified human race seeks to build a tower that reaches the heavens so that the people of the world will not be scattered across the earth and can be close to god. God comes down though and scatters the people of the world across the globe and confuses their communication by creating different languages. Sandburg’s poetry seems to be an effort to rebuild the unity of the human experience and return us (or at least provide glimpses) of the universal aspects of our existence. The role of nature is a good example of this theme. In the excerpts provided, Sandburg repeatedly returns to man’s co-existence with and subjugation to the whims of the weather and other natural phenomena (the lines in section 50 about the iceberg were reminiscent to me of Stephen Crane’s A Man Said to the Universe). In some ways, Sandburg seems to almost dismiss the experience of the individual in its entirety. He rails against personal credit for worldly successes, against the “boss” and other titles, against the effects of capitalism/advertising and its tendency to separate man from his true nature. And while the poem is certainly critical of specific aspects of the American spirit of Sandburg’s time, I believe Sandburg ends the poem on a hopeful note. Despite the dual nature of the human spirit as a “comic two face: hero and hoodlum,” Sandburg recognizes our ability as people to continually achieve renewal (by going back to “the nourishing earth for rootholds”) and our desire to reach “for lights beyond the prisms of the five senses.” It is through this process of reaching for universal understanding that we may better answer the poet’s final question: “where to? what next?”
Sandburg’s treatment of Lincoln in section 57 is fascinating in light of our recent discussion of Whitman’s Lilacs. Their treatment of Lincoln through the poetry is very different, but the admiration for their subject (implied in the case of Lilacs) is the same. While Lincoln is never specifically mentioned in Lilacs, I would venture to say that Whitman’s elegy is more personal than Sandburg’s. Whitman is seeking to assuage his own grief in light of the tragic national events of his time. Sandburg benefits from the clarifications of time and a clearer picture of Lincoln’s impact on the people of America. Sandburg begins section 57 with “Lincoln?,” making it clear from the start that the section is meant to contemplate Lincoln the man, the type of person he was, and his impact on others. Was Lincoln a poet, a historian, a gatherer of the American dream, a dreamer himself? Sandburg points out that he was likely all of these things, but I can’t help but notice the strong parallels between Lincoln’s role of American unifier and Sandburg’s view of the poet’s role as unifier of the human experience. Sandburg ends the section with a quote from Lincoln that, in my mind, outlines exactly the objective of the poet as Sandburg sees it:
“If we could first know where we are,
and whither we are tending,
we could better judge
what to do, and how to do it.”
Sandburg can see the benefits Lincoln’s mindset ultimately resulted in and he clearly seeks to apply this mindset to the challenges and miscommunications of his own time.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
As a resident of lower Manhattan during 2001, I feel a close personal connection with the events and aftermath of 9/11. It is through this lens and the lingering presence in my mind of Whitman’s Lilacs with which I read a number of the 9/11 poems contained on the Library of Congress’ website. Whitman’s presence in many of the poems is palpable. Some go so far as to quote Whitman directly, such as Galway Kinnell’s When the Towers Fell that uses lines both from Lilacs as well as City of Ships. While I found Kinnell’s poem to be most directly tied to Whitman’s Lilacs, I wanted to comment briefly on two other poems I enjoyed from the group: Billy Collins’ The Names and Martin Espada’s Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100. The Names recounts the poet’s experience with the actual names of those who perished in the towers. Similar to Lilacs, which begins with a description of “the black murk” of the night and Lincoln as the “great star”, The Names begins in “the palm of the night” as the poet lays awake in his bed visualizing the names of the dead which are “printed on the ceiling of the night.” Collins goes on to use a number of techniques reminiscent of Lilacs, including significant flower and tree imagery as well as the use of all of his senses in experiencing the personal impact of the names of the dead. The Names ends with the poet’s resignation regarding his ability to effectively deal with the tragic events of 9/11 questioning the “room on the walls of the heart” to appropriately pay homage to “so many names.” These final lines remind me of Whitman’s struggle to appropriately decorate Lincoln’s burial house: “O what shall I hang on these chamber walls?”
I also see Whitman (although mostly I just like the poem) in Espada’s Alabanza in which Espada seeks to provide praise for the 43 members of at the Windows of the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center who were mostly Latino immigrants, many of whom were undocumented. Unlike the names of others who died in the tragedy of 9/11, most of the names of these workers were unknown and never appropriately recognized in the aftermath of the events. Similar to Whitman’s ongoing focus on the working man, Alabanza seeks to recognize and praise these common workers and forgotten heroes of 9/11. Stylistically, Alabanza reads like a song or ritualistic chant which reminds me of the “song” or “carol” of the hermit thrush in Lilacs. Espada ends Alabanza referencing the “two constellations of smoke [of New York and Kabul]… mingling in the icy air” reminding us of the universal experience of death and tragedy that we as humans must deal with regardless of cultural background.