Thursday, May 17, 2012

Personal Project: YouTubing Whitman II — Selections of "Calamus"

(Finally, after annoying technical issues, here it is!)

I decided to take on the challenge of editing videos. Thanks to the support from my friends who helped me not only as actors but also for providing me with resources that gave me access to great sound and editing! I selected a few passages from "Calamus" and attempted to give a visual portrayal on those with plenty of imagery to follow up on.

So. To get into the production of the video and some thoughts.

Anthony Ghadieh. Best friend since the beginning of elementary school. He so happens to have been a Walt Whitman fan even before I heard much of the poet beyond mere mention in anthologies. He usually already even has a grizzly look going on, but still I was happy to hear that he was willing to take on the role as my subject for the projectbonus points for his experience in acting in school plays and musicals.

Sophia Sarnicola. Another best friend of mine, though we met at a later time during middle school years. In addition to being an awesome poet, she's also a great artist, musician (who plays the drums, cello, guitar, and bass), graphic designer, everything. Her experience with recording sound (not to mention her killer collection of equipment that includes a $100+ microphone) and also directing and editing videos was pretty much a beautiful package of awesome I needed to learn how to manage my own project. Plus, she makes for a great companion for my Whitmanian friend.

Myron Lam. Yet a third of my best friends whom I've had the pleasure of meeting in elementary school. Though he is away at UCI, he's taken his time to help Sophia and I fix our video issues and going over steps to not only solve the problem, but to also take part in fixing up the corrupt files. While he did not take part in the development of the project, nonetheless, he's just as much of a big help to me as my other two buddies. With his expertise in computers and experiences creating and editing videos (among his many other talents in classical music and composition) I couldn't ask for a better person to help me out.

As for myself, thanks to work experience as an intern for YBCA (in San Francisco) for the YAAW program and for the RYSE center in Richmond as a member of ArtsChange, I know how to create basic storyboards for how to plan out recording videos and set up stage directions, if you will.

The four of us have all attended the same elementary school (Ohlone Elementary in Hercules, CA) and, from time to time, we hang out in this hidden forest that hides behind our school's park. A handful of people know about it (boo to tagging on trees) but it's the perfect location to get many of the nature and isolation imagery found in "Calamus."

A lot of the detailed imagery is based on the forestthe location of isolation. Nature happens to be the main source of Whitman's imagery in all of his poemseven in his Specimen Days entries. Fortunate to have some sort of forest nearby, even though I was with friends shooting scenes, it's amazing how even then, there's only nature and it's opennessit's a world outside of time and the hustle and bustle of other human beings. There's even a sense of comfort to be beheld from Mother Nature as anything that takes place within the green and trees is practically secretivemum's the word, I figure, and it makes me think of the "dark mother" found in "Lilacs". The primordial world revolves around the power of the female mother's of the Earth. Nature is the closest thing to pure cosmos and understanding the true world (over "seeing" to "believe), despite the fact that such knowledge is perhaps unobtainable to the human mind. Still, Whitman takes on this quest and finds it in the nearest and most available portal into the origins of Gaea. Even if the rest of the world shuns one, one typically can return to the arms of their mothers (Gaea) and feel better. But definitely, the fresh, green, aromatic, and overall natural feel of the forest imagery is not only a perfect, ideal world for Whitman, but also the fantasy realm the speaker of "Calamus" can escape into until he is ready to take on the (contrasting) industrialized, consumer-based, and conformist society. It's something interesting to me that there is definitely a lack of sensual images compared to those of nature.

I tried to get more light pouring in in later readings to signify the changing tone of the poem as the speaker rises to the occasion and learns to step out from his self-exile and back into the world where he openly expresses himself and his love for comradesa moment of epiphanies and revelations. I found it hard to visualize the metaphors beyond the forest, and so I thought that the subtle lighting could at least present this, though, looking back, it's hard to say that the lighting was completely controlled (ain't no one tell the Sun what to do).


In the end, I really am happy to have had taken this class. As a first-year student at SFSU, it's refreshing to have gone outside of the usual classroom feel of high school and experience the hybrid of an online/in person class. I especially enjoy the fact that, rather than just writing formal responses to Whitman and turning in essays, class sessions were discussions where we can give our thoughts and feedback and overall have a full-on conversation about poetrywhich I feel like is a great way to talk about something that isn't necessarily confined to one interpretation. It was also helpful to get some historical background information pertaining to the world of Walt Whitman, as that gave more dimension to his poetry (and how we read it according to his time and our own). Perhaps the title of the course should be changed to avoid garnering disappointed Frost fans. Then again, it's a cool way to have them embrace and get in contact with Whitman, despite false advertising, haha!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Guthrie and Whitman: Of Art and Politics

I guess to sort of go back into what I said during the Sandburg lecture, I recall learning in my Fables and Tales class that a lot of folklore and fables were written in times of social upheaval and change. Interestingly, a lot of these stories were written by people who were not of the reigning upper class. Aesop, for example, was a slave from Samos. Marie de France, a famous medieval poet, was a woman who wrote poems that defied the standards and traditions of the Church and ultimately gave women a more prominent stance, among other things. Many poets and artists use their craft to speak otherwise (in cases that threaten their lives) or to speak out loud to convey their perspectives of the world around them.

With that said, there are even many modern mediums of art that directly correlate to politics. A visual art example that can be considered is the famous image of Barack Obama of "Hope", designed by Shepard Fairey. It's become this iconic image that we associate with the election of our first black presidentand that holds significance to many people, albeit for many different reasons. To go away from visual art, there's also the popular medium of spoken word poetry that includes youth and adults alike reciting lyrical and personal accounts that can often times call out to a large issue at hand.

Whitman represents the people via cataloging and listing. He calls upon the "greasy or pimpled—or that you was once drunk, or a thief, or diseased, or rheumatic, or a prostitute—or are so now—or from frivolity or impotence—or that you are no scholar, and never saw your name in print" in "Song of Occupations" and many more in "Song of the Open Road". Guthrie, on the other hand, does not specify, but I feel like he is just as inclusive by not doing so. The"migrants" of "Pastures of Plenty" and the "people" of "This Land is Your Land" are given context as being people deprived of their home(land) and being driven to labor for what they ought to already have. In a way, I can't help but think about how political figures want to specify and include as many demographic appeals as possible in gathering for support in regards to Whitman, but it's more of a comparison as to how each seek to reach out for their audience. As for Guthrie, besides being, to me, anyway, a parallel of the generality of music and its structure, he appeals to the masses without defining (risking exclusion) of those he hopes to speak for; it's clear that the farmers and migrants of the Great Depression are being described in the given text and, regardless of who they are, they are included in among a specific genus (rather than listed as many species, if you will follow this brief and strange word choice).

For Whitman, because he is a performer and a poet, among many, many other roles, he is similar to the modern day spoken word poet in that his poetry calls for more than just reading words off of a page. It calls for the audience to listen to someone who wants to share an experience, to connect with what he wants to say, and, ultimately, someone who desires for some change to take place. It's even obvious in many of his works' titles that he is emulating a song—spoken word poetry that flows through free verse and, in essence, free speech. Guthrie takes the "song" a bit further (and albeit a bit more traditionally) by creating and reciting lyrical works and music that project the ill effects of the Great Depression that are inflicted upon "the migrants".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ginsberg and Whitman

(Of personal note, I want to explore both of the poems in one question each, bringing them together for the final question -- otherwise, I would feel like I could not come to share my full thoughts on either in regards to the specific questions)

1. Ginsburg's "Howl" follows a pattern on lines that maintain a steady rhythm. The repetition of "who" within the structure of the poem connotes the title's act of "howling" or "yawping" -- it's a speech and a performance that seeks to express a higher message to its audience as it represents the people. Like Whitman, Ginsburg uses his poem "to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head" ("Howl"). The "who", then, becomes the counterpart of "you" as the pronoun that brings in the reader, the people, as its subject. Unlike Whitman, however, Ginsburg focuses more on the "the best minds of my generation" as he lists out the many, many different characteristics and features that make up who they are and the experiences they encounter as "outcasts" of a capitalistic and conformist society. Also, each section that starts with who appears to have a sort of "beat" or rhythm to it as there's a momentum that leads the musicality to what sounds like iambic meter. Here, then, the syntax and form of the poem is more formal and in control as opposed to the free verse of Whitman that possessed its own varied rhythm and poetic feet. Nevertheless, especially after listening to Ginsburg read the poem, there is a speech-like, epic poetry style that can be traced to Whitman's style of performing his words, bending the role of poetry beyond paper -- beyond the standard, but distant relationship between reader and poet.

2. I thought I read "A Supermarket in California" somewhere recently, and it turned out that I took a look at it for the Whitman in Pop Culture assignment! Anyway, with some focus on the poem, one theme Ginsburg and Whitman share that stood out to me the most was the concept of isolation versus finding comradeship. The poem starts out with the speaker thinking of Whitman on a night stroll "with a headache subconscious". All the while, he notices Walt, "childless, lonely old grubber". When the two depart together, "solitary" is repeated a few times; their time together somehow does not erase the fact that "the trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely". Strangely, the all-embracing, intimate, and sensual Whitman seems to resemble the questioning, solemn Whitman of "Calamus". Going back to the title, it's as if the two men are observing from their distant, secluded place but also making a visit to the more open and populated supermarket where there are the most interactions made. Even more far-out is the reference to the ancient Greek Underworld and how the character of Whitman actually watched the ferryman of the Underworld steer the boat in a realm beyond human means. Perhaps Ginsburg hopes to evoke a sense of Whitman's situations of comradeship tending to thrive as outcasts of society, but needs to be openly expressed an shared -- though in Ginsburg's case it would be more subversive. To go more into the Greek mythology, I believe the River Lethe's waters cause forgetfulness. Could that suggest a desire to forget the rest of the world and remain in exile? Or rather, there is probably no choice -- otherwise, the two characters would have to conform to the unwilling society that rejects their camaraderie.

3. Ginsberg, a radical thinker of his time, voiced his thoughts and ideas through his poetry. As an opponent of capitalism and conformity, he writes as means to stir social unrest. Moreover, Ginsburg "the man" does not overextend as the main focus of each of these two poems -- in "Howl", he narrates and describes the stories of the outcasts who cannot openly express themselves while in "A Supermarket in California", he "interacts" with his muse representation of Whitman who serves as a representation of these similar outcasts. The poet, then, serves as the voice of these oppressed people and calls for reform.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Look into Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" and Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

Rukeyser's first five stanzas stand on this surface of seeing how people tend to fear and avoid death as a topic. Here, too, the "you" takes the people as a collective body going through the same experience. "The people", the readers, then are introduced to the dark cloud of gloom over death and the vague social taboo that prevents people from openly talking about the problem. Like Whitman, there's the sense of isolation, but the feeling is being sent to the reader as their own (and the narrator) as opposed to Whitman bearing this pain for himself but expressing it as a great grief over a great loss. In that regard, the message comes across, to me, as a reader, as a direct experience, whereas Whitman's poem becomes a personal, engaging encounter with the narration's sharing of his experience (as if I'm listening to a friend speak for himself and feeling what he feels).

On that note, Whitman goes from addressing a fellow mourner (perhaps "the people") of the dead to also directly confronting a metaphorical manifestation of Death. As the narration seeks to overcome grief, Death as a personification becomes a force to interact, encounter, antagonize, accept, and to converse and rejoice with. Something similar is also going on with the star in the night sky and the bird, as the struggle between being trapped by sorrow and praise for Death evolves into a final song -- the latter has won. To me, because Whitman writes of a direct conflict with the dead via these literary devices, somehow his mourning comes alive (ironic as that is), and becomes something that can be shared in an empathetic sort of way. One can feel the inner conflict between denial of the loss or feeling trapped by accepting death as some natural force that reigns our lives (and also as something that serves as a wonderful force, as much as we tend not to see the true face of our "dark mother") and celebrating the passing as freedom of suffering for the departed as also as a striking feature of life. On the other hand, I get the impression that the speaker in Rukeyser's poem also has a less despairing insight on death, but it is different from Whitman's message in that, the future is bright because there's "another day"for us as the living. Death still looms, but we must grow to accept it in the regard that, while we still hold the fate and the past dearly, there still is more to press on forward.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Carl Sandburg: Investigation and Discussion Questions

"Achelous and Hercules" by Thomas Hart Benton

Inspired by Whitman, the man of multitudes, of the cosmos, and self-proclaimed voice of the people, Carl Sandburg, in the world of 1930's Chicago, shares his own message and tells his own tale of the people. We are going to take a look at what his story evokes and involves and juxtapose it with our favorite loafer's Leaves of Grass.

Download the selected sections of The People, Yes and, while reading through them, consider and respond to the following set of questions:

  1. (As worded by James) While reading select passages from Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes, ask yourself how you think Sandburg views his function as a poet. Then, think about how these ideas ultimately define “The People, Yes” and its objective. Do these ideas differ from those that Whitman projects in poems like “Song of Myself” about his role as a poet? Does the objective of Leaves of Grass differ from the objective of The People, Yes? How so, or why not? (You might take a look at the concluding section of “Song of Myself.” Here, Whitman writes that he is “untranslatable.” What does Whitman mean when he says he is “untranslatable?” Would you consider Sandburg “untranslatable” from what you have read? Why or why not?)
  2. (Considering also Casey's question) Take a closer look at Section 57 and notice how Sandburg introduces Abraham Lincoln into his poem and what sort of role he gives to him. Having considered the differences and similarities between the objectives of “The People, Yes” and “Leaves of Grass", how would you describe the methods by which the two poets represent Lincoln, and ultimately, their ideas? How may those processes be representative of their own worlds? What possible effects would these have on their readers?

For Thursday's discussion of these questions and Sandburg's The People, Yes, I probably am going to ask you all about what you think about each of the poet's "effectiveness" -- what do you think about how each of the two carried out their messages? Are you, as the reader, convinced by how and what they each say? This is something to just keep in mind, so don't worry about answering this in your blogs. Also, be sure to check out the other Sandburg posts, as there maybe some other things to keep track of like extra trinkets of information and thoughts to look out for to help further your understanding of Sandburg.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Investigation: 9/11 Poems + "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

"Hum" by Ann Lauterbach

Compared to Whitman's struggle to overcome loss as seen in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", I get the impression that Lauterbach's poem posesses a calm tone. The repeating lines of "the days are beautiful" seems assuring that things will be alright, despite the fact that "the towers are yesterday". The tone does dissipate for a moment when mentions of the towers and dust -- but even then, I feel like there's the impression that the changing scenery seems to be another "incidental" moment during the days. Following is the calming images of "the bridge over the water" -- as if the torment has calmed and is now under wraps as the days continue. By contrast, Whitman's poem has emotions ebb and flow -- he tries to figure out how to get over his mourning self whereas this poem has achieved this calm and acceptance. While Whitman's star is hidden by dark clouds, Lauterbach's scenery (weather) is hidden by dust. However, when these impediments are cleared, there is the contrast of hope in that Whitman sings of celebration (of moving on) while Lauterbach sees another day -- peace after the incident that so happened to take place. In terms of structure, Lauterbach's poem is consistent with it's two short lines, maintaining the continuous, repetitive tone of the poem -- not even the tragedy breaks the momentum, as it's part of the pattern. Whitman, being the free verse writer, is as varied as his intense emotions of suffering, mourning, contemplation and celebration. His poem describes the process of losing a loved one in its entirety, from initial suffering, to confusion/uncertainty, and finally, release from that pain. I feel it holds true and dearer to more readers as most would undergo this process and are unable to maintain their composure -- it would be pleasurable, then, in the end, to finally be able to let go and feel the remorse sting less or no more.

"Boerum Hill, (September 2001)" by Kimiko Hahn

Like Lauterbach's poem, Hahn's poem follows the organization and structure of a predetermined follow, though, in this case, it is derived from the poetic form of the tanka (though even though it is labeled as such on the link, I'm not sure if it is actually following the 5-7-5-7-7 order -- oh well. Anyway, Hahn's tanka provides scenes of 9/11 and some parts of its aftermath. Here, like Whitman, the imagery evokes a sense of loss, the pain that comes from death, its funeral processions, and trying to overcome the loss and absence of people like the wife's husband that is mentioned. However, in Hahn's poem, the pain does not go away, in sections 22 and 25, the speaker of the poem seems to have a bitter resentment toward tourists -- they do not know the true nature of the tragedy, they do not know what it was like to mourn for loved ones, and they have the audacity to come to take pictures and marvel at what is supposed to represent and mark the memorial of the many deaths that took place on 9/11. In the end, there isn't that step from mourning to the acceptance of death and its following celebration. From Whitman, we can see that it is perhaps possible to move on, but naturally it may take time and involve suffering and denial of what has come to pass.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Project Development

I decided to go ahead and develop my first idea of a project more. After thinking about the questions Thursday's class, I realized that I would probably enjoy and benefit from it more. First, I'll just post the first "draft" of the project here:

1) YouTubing Whitman Remix
I'm not really savvy when it comes to taking and editing videos, but I feel  more welcome in the realm of photography. I really wanted to choose another location for my video, but couldn't due to lack of transportation and the will to walk half an hour on a cold day. That aside, I would love to take on a longer excerpt from the poem (if not the entire poem, if the project requires such ambition) and combine it with a slideshow of images taken by myself within the sphere of my hometown, the city of Hercules -- all to capture the natural essences that Whitman has entwined in "Song of Myself". I really love the idea of using images (or anything visual) to bring more out of a poem's imagery. It does feel sort of contradictory to go with "showing" rather that "feeling" what Whitman wants to convey; nevertheless, until it is possible for us to be able to actually be within the pictures we take, this will have to do! Whitman's details of natural scenery really do paint a beautiful picture and, at the same time, do not lose sight (or touch) of its reality; the beauty comes not from dreamy clouds or spores, but instead from solid soil and grassroots. Thus, if I can take on trekking to the beach by the bay, the hidden forest, the dirt paths near and across the train tracks, it would not only be a fun field day of taking digital pictures, but it would also feel like a rough adventure through nature. Or even, instead of "Song of Myself" I could also look into "Song of Occupations" or even "Calamus" (since it's a fresh new seed of thoughts in my mind). This could be even more helpful -- what kinds of images does Whitman evoke from nature to support his ground-breaking notions? Are they "consistent" (I say this rather objectively since a poet's style can change over time, but there's still that unique voice) with each other in other poems?

So, imagery (with emphasis on nature) is the main subject, and the overall presentation will be a slideshow. I probably will also record myself reading the lines, and so while I go out to various locations to get scenic photos, I'll also have to bring my laptop or something to record myself while there -- it would feel weird reading from my room and not getting sound effects in on what's supposed to be a sort of representation of the scenes found in the poem. In the end, my goal is to try to emulate the senses Whitman is evoking from his descriptions of nature and how they relate to his work as a whole -- or at least I hope that makes as much sense anyway as it does in my mind.