In preparation for some words on Whitman from Allen coming up next week
Walt Whitman presented for the American public in 1988 in the television series, “Voices and Visions“. Allen appears alongside Galway Kinnell (who gives most of the readings), Donald Hall, and biographers and critics (Justin Kaplan, Harold Bloom…)
Here are (as excerpted) the Ginsberg sound-bytes:”My father was a high-school teacher, across the river in Paterson, New Jersey, and he taught Whitman, so I got Whitman in very early, as, what? as a kind of a patriotic poet and American poet , the high-school-hero poet, and then I had a really interesting high-school teacher in East Side High school, Mrs Frances Durbin, 300 pounds, who read the line “I find that no fat sweeter than sticks to my own bones” and I realized the enormous humanity and charm of Whitman, his complete appeal.” – “Poe was a dream-generalist, that is, a philosophical dreamer, who had phantoms that he described in detail. Melville, the other great poet of the 19th Century, in his prose, had infinite command of minute particulars, in his poetry, quite a good command, but still was writing in a limited closed form, and.. but he was getting close. Emily Dickinson had intelligent metaphysical detail and garden detail – but it was a smaller form.. Now, Whitman opened up space completely, opened up the space of the line, broke open the line, so that you could say anything you want, could notice anything you want, and could bring in all the everyday particulars of kitchen-ware life, dock life, skyscraper life…” – “After I wrote Howl, I went back to Whitman, because I was interested in how he handled the long line . I read Whitman from beginning to end in this particular Modern Library edition of Leaves of Grass.
He broke open the line so that you could talk with unobstructed breath, you could use the breath as long as you want, to explain your idea.”
“If Whitman tells America, “I am large, I contain multitudes”, it’s that he contains multitudes of thought – just like anybody else. “I am vast..” My mind is as big as the horizon that you see about because in my mind I can see the horizon, so therefore it enters my mind, so therefore my mind is as big as the horizon.”
“He loved his fellows and that’s kind of universal, whether it was genital, is another matter, likely it was, as I know, I’ve slept with Neal Cassady who slept with Gavin Arthur who slept with Edward Carpenter who described sleeping with Whitman to Gavin Arthur, [The “Gay Succession”], so there was, perhaps, some general directness there.”“Earth My Likeness“ in which he finally confesses completely to anybody who’s reading carefully (sic). “I now suspect that that is not all/I now suspect there’s something fierce in you eligible to burst forth/ For an athlete is enamour’d of me, and I of him/But toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me eligible to burst forth/I dare not tell it in words, not even in these songs” – So there he’s already told you.”
“He never was overt in the sense of speaking of “the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name”. On the other hand, his descriptions of his feelings were overt.”
[Allen reads Whitman’s “A Glimpse” at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in] ( “A glimpse through an interstice caught/Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a corner,/Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,/A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,/There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word”).
“Whitman’s role in the war was not killing but healing. He went to hospitals and took care of young kids who were wounded and sometimes dying, and kissed them on their deathbeds, probably weeping young boys that had never seen life. There’s this old bearded Father Time figure, totally in love with them, taking care of them.”
“So, he doesn’t know what is happening to his body..so he says – [At approximately fifty-and-three-quarter minutes in, Allen reads “As I sit writing here” – (“As I sit writing here, sick and grown old,/Not my least burden is the dulness of the years, querilities/ Ungracious glooms, aches, lethargy, constipation, whimpering ennui,/ May filter in my daily songs.”) – that’s an old little poem, worried about his constipation getting into his poetry (he inherited that before) and finally realizes a more Oriental calm in a poem called “Twilight”, in “Sands at Seventy” – [Allen reads the poem approximately fifty-one-and three-quarter minutes in – (“The soft voluptuous opiate-shades/ The sun just gone, the eager light dispelled,/A haze, nirvana – rest and night – oblivion”)”
“All of the Leaves of Grass dissolved, all of the Earth dissolved, all of the Universe dissolved, all the sound of the world dissolved…”