September 21, 2009

Ben Brishcar for 9-22

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 12:52 pm

The Gospel According to Walt


Let me start this by saying that I think I enjoyed Walt Whitman far more when I had to make the leap to proclaim him prophet.  Now, granted, it wasn’t that far of a logical stretch to assume that that was the voice he was going for in the 1855 edition of ‘Leaves’, but it was at least a stretch left to the readers.  This implied some sort of authorial trust, that he might not tell everyone that he is a prophet but he will leave it to you to figure it out for yourself.  The tone was breakneck and because of this the inherent arrogance was, at some level, charming.  Along the same line, I can tolerate the shameless self-promoter in Whitman because of the shear novelty and ridiculousness of the idea of him writing his own shining reviews.  I can even, somewhat, get behind his vision of himself as the great American poet.

Now, the version of ‘Song of Myself’ in the 1867 edition of ‘Leaves’, this one tests the limits of arrogance that I’m able to accept from Whitman as a reader.  The first offense here is in the title, no ‘Leaves of Grass’ or ‘Song of Myself’ here, just the poets name.  Now there is only one thing that is invoked when you have a work written by someone and title it with the author’s name, and that is biblical narrative.  Specifically, here Whitman is putting his own name in a tradition of either the prophets of the Old Testament or with the Gospel writers of the New Testament, meaning that he’s putting himself on par with either those who have heard the word of G-d directly or those who either hung with Jesus or hung out with people who hung out with Jesus.

Now theoretically, does this give Whitman the narrative authority he is constantly grasping for?  Yes, but that only works if your audience buys it.  If this foray into the extremely religious ended at the title, though, I’d be more apt to accept it, the problem is that it doesn’t.  The very poem itself has now been split up into chapter and verse, as if one, when quoting ‘Walt Whitman’ the poem, could add in ‘Whitman 9/17’ or something of that like.

I guess this whole thing comes back to a level of trust and mystery I’ve come to expect from most writers, and until this point has proven true of Whitman.  To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, great writing requires understanding of two concepts, mystery and manners.  In structuring this version of ‘Leaves’ in the manner that he did, I feel that Whitman flubbed the mystery and in doing so, forgot his manners.  If you feel that you are writing the poem that will change the world, then let your poem speak as a poem that will change the world, and don’t try and make a religion out of it.  Thankfully, looking ahead, this challenge was fixed in the deathbed addition.

September 15, 2009

What Ben wants to know about Whitman

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 7:53 pm

I’m going with my constant preoccupation with voice on this one, but as Professor Emerson would say, sometimes it’s best to stick to your obsessions (loosely paraphrased, but the gist is there).  We have spent so much time in class discussing Walt Whitman as this or Walt Whitman as publisher or Walt Whitman as critic or Walt Whitman as prophet, and I just kind of want to know what Whitman was like to his friends.  We see so much of the public Whitman, that I’m not sure what the private Whitman is like at all.

Ben for Sept. 15

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 4:06 pm

Whitman as a worshipper at a temple

Last class, there was a discussion of a section of the 1855 version of “Leaves of Grass” where the speaker and his soul meet in a holy and sexual congress and become one.  While this is only the first section we have closely examined in which Whitman equates the physical with the spiritual, it is by far not the only example.  There is an old saying that ‘the body is a temple’ and this seems intrinsic to understanding Whitman’s ideas on sexual spirituality.  For Whitman, his body is a temple, my body is a temple, your body is a temple, and damn it he wants to worship at every single one of them.

            The section from this classes reading that really tipped this idea going in my head is the ninth section of I Sing the Body Electric which at first glance appears as another one of Whitman’s seemingly endless lists, this one a list of body parts.  But it ends with a closed section and not a segue into another train of thought as we’ve grown accustomed to in the 1885 version.  It ends with the lines “O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, / O I say now these are the soul.”  These final lines of the section made me go back to reread the list and figure out what exactly he was up to.

            The impression I got was that, at least this list, has the feel of a mantra or to use a phrase that one of Whitman’s biggest fan boys, Alan Ginsberg, was so fond of, a Khaddish.  Especially the Khaddish, which if memory serves, is a Jewish prayer that lists what is holy, and what is sacred in the eyes of God.  This serves as at least a basic answer to the question of why there is so much listing in this section of the text.  Whitman does not want to leave any part out in his exaltation of the body as holy, and thus feels the need to take a full page to list them all.

            Then after this massive listing, he makes his statement, which has almost a Christ like reissuance to it.  That the body is fully body, but it isn’t fully body it is also spirit, and above that it is fully spirit.  This point of transcendence of the body as holy, and the holy as body accounts also for the shear amount of sexuality in Whitman’s work; this is not a taboo topic for Whitman, sexuality is not something that should be shied away from, instead for him, the orgasm is a religious experience and the body is the type of temple in which frequent praising should be held.

September 8, 2009

Looking for America

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 9:31 pm

So we were talking in class today about Emerson’s ideas, which are echoed by Whitman, that poets and poetry can come from anywhere.  I, being a slammer by heart, immediately went in my head to slam poetry, which also has this sort of working class attitude and embodies this search for identity within America.  Also I wanted to play around with posting video.  So, enjoy Damien Flores, Anis Mojgani, and Kevin Covall.

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Ben’s Image Gloss

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What exactly is a Calumet?

“In arriere the peace talk with the Iroquois the aborigines, the calumet, the pipe of good-will, arbitration, and indrosement.” (“Our Old Feuillage” page 321)


According to, the calumet is:

“a long-stemmed, ornamented tobacco pipe used by North American Indians on ceremonial occasions, esp. in token of peace.”

How this functions then, in terms of Whitman’s poetry is that it adds a tone of authenticity to the piece.  Knowing the lingo, so to speak of a culture leads the reader to put more stock in your words because you know what you are talking about.  The confusion, though, that lead to this image gloss was in the ambiguity in the lines, where Whitman is moving from peoples, the Iroquois and aborigines, to the pipe of good will mentioned afterwords.

September 6, 2009

Ben’s Post for 9/8

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 10:31 pm

Me, You and a Boat Ride, examining voice and journeys in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”


            I know that narrative voice was the topic of discussion last week, but it is one of my favorite literary haunts, and so I am returning to it again.  Last week, one of the points raised in class was a discussion of Whitman’s use of “I” and “you” in conjunction with each other.  In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” the I and the You become even more interesting.  The first thing of note is that this is a short poem, by Whitman’s standards; none of the “Song of Myself” length lyrics here.  With the poem, then, being of that length word choice is not more important, but certainly easier to analyze.

            This poem is set up as a conversation between an “I” and a “You” on a rather mundane trip across a ferry.  The “I” in this situation is not inherently Walt Whitman though, or not even necessarily a form of the Whitman voice, as the speaker never identifies himself.  The “I” voice, though speaks from an expansive place where it is moving towards the “You” figure.  In the fourth section of the poem, he speaks “These and all else were to me the same as they are to you, / I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river, / The men and women I saw were near to me,”.  This talk of cities expanding beyond just the Brooklyn Ferry lends to a reading of the poem where the speaker is the America of the past and the intended audience is the America of the present and future.

            This reading is furthered in the sixth stanza where he refers to the dark patches falling on both of them with it culminating in “Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress, / The same role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like, / Or as small as we like, or both great and small.”  Now adding to this the rhetoric of the journey.  One person, the I is standing on a ferry speaking expansively of the world around him and heading towards the You which is stationary.  The end of this, the past catching up with the present, so to speak, happens at the end of the poem, where the I and You language changes to a We speaker.

            Also, this last section bares significant social commentary on it.  The line “You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers” is a gloriously tongue in cheek look at the present.  If the past is constantly heading towards the present, then it does not wait and bears all the weight of it’s gained knowledge with it, while the present standards there as ministers, bringing word of what is and what to come, and not necessarily getting it.  To the speaker, however, this makes them beautiful.

September 1, 2009

Song Of Ben

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 2:34 pm


“Have you reckoned a thousand acres much? Have you reckoned the earth much?

Have you practiced so long to learn to read?

Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?”


Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . . there are millions of suns left,

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…..nor look through the eyes of the dead….nor feed on the spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”

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