In a recent comment, John Domini remarked how Kafka is “a major marketing tool” in Prague (Kafka beer steins, Kafka underwear, etc.), which reminded me, in a U.S. context, of how Levi’s exploitatively enlisted Walt Whitman’s poem “O Pioneers” for their 2009 “Go Forth” ad campaign. The commercial is a laughably bad example of corporate propaganda that turns Whitmanian address into capitalist interpellation (I remember the commercial was loudly booed when it was shown before a screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces).
In an apparently non-ironic comment, YouTube user sapporo1992 says, “i seriously get so inspired when i see this. haha and i do kinda live a life like that full of adventure maybe thats why i relate to it so much…and i love walt whitman’s poetry.”
In contrast to the “inspiring” and “adventurous” Whitman (this is the Whitman of “Song of the Open Road”), the recent The Simpson’s episode “The Squirt and the Whale” (episode 460) presents us with the “comforting” and “compassionate” Whitman (this is the Whitman of “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night”). In the episode, Lisa comforts a beached blue whale (she names her “Bluella”) by reading her a passage from Leaves of Grass. She says to the whale, “When I’m sad I read something beautiful and true: poetry” and then reads aloud the first three lines of “The World below the Brine” (“The world below the brine; / Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves, / Sea-lettuce, vast lichens…”) before falling asleep beside the beast. When she awakes, she finds that Bluella is dead.
Notes during and at the close, immediately after, my Skype appearance on Friday, June 4th, at
“The Importance of Independents,” Los Angeles, 7:30 pm
I’ve deliberately not done any significant editing to the document, in hopes that the immediacy of the entry might compensate for its roughness. I’m initiating a Skype reading series for Lake Forest College next year, and well, I find the whole thing fascinating. I would be very interested in hearing from others about their experiences reading at-a-distance.
Linh Dinh reports, over at Harriet: The Blog, that:
Seldomly do we see this kind of gravity in American poetry. Clear, direct and free of personal references, it’s also aimed at the widest public, at the nation. Americans, those few tolerating poetry, tend to cringe at poets assuming such a grand posture. Our first, Walt Whitman, remains our best. Ginsberg was but a shadow, at times parody. Half prophet, half clown, he was in any case our last public bard.
This is an important subject: gravity in American poetry, as relative to American poets’ and the American public’s interest(s) in the nation. I felt the immediate urge to scroll down the archives of POEMS FOR THE FIRST 100 DAYS, but the first on the site seems only to prove Dinh’s point.
I want to offer a response, a fist raised in defense of American poets, but I think, instead and immediately, of non-poets, and of writers from other nations: I think of Salman Rushdie’s Step Across this Line and Imaginary Homelands; I think of Said and Naipaul, Sebald and Coetzee. I think of Anderson’s Imagined Communities, of Anzaldua’s Borderlands, Bhabha’s The Location of Culture, Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Hareven’s Thirst, Suleri’s Meatless Days, and, of course, Soja’s Thirdspace.
And then, too, I think of Anthony Doerr, who in my humble opinion wins the prize for gravity in American fiction. “The Caretaker,” anyone? For although its politics begin in Liberia, the story’s end comments on America’s, for what happens to Joseph Saleeby could happen to anyone whose exile/escape from his homeland doesn’t quite end up/live up to the hype of America’s promised land of the free . . .
So Doerr’s got something to add to the discussion of literature and the nation. But my questions now are: Who else? And which American poets do (or did)? And do you?