Meditation and Poetics – (Walt Whitman Lists – 4)

“The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp.” (Walt Whitman)

Allen in his Naropa class continues his line-by-line examination of Section 15 of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

AG [reading Whitman]: – “The one-year wife is recovering and happy having a week ago borne her first child,/The clean-hair’d Yankee girl works with her sewing machine or in the factory or mill/ The paving man leans on his two-handed rammer” – (that’s a good one!)

Peter Orlovsky (sitting in on the class):  Rammer?

AG: “…rammer”

Peter Orlovsky: What’s a “rammer”? You ram cement to make a…

AG: Well, maybe. It’s a two-handed instrument with a pole and then a flat bottom which would either…no, I guess, ram into the ground
Peter Orlovsky: Ram in?
AG: Like a..
Peter Orlovsky: A tamper?
AG: That would be the padding instrument, and then a rammer, I guess, a rammer would be ramming in. Maybe ramming down the earth?
Student: (But if..)
Student: If the earth doesn’t settle, you can’t fake it by using a rammer
AG: They call that “ramming it”?
Student: Tamping it down
AG: Tamping it. Probably he should have said “tamper”. But “rammer”, maybe, for those days – “The paving-man leans on this two-handed tamper” would be just as good…

“…the reporter’s lead flies swiftly over the note-book..” – (That’s nice, that’s like a movie) – “…the sign-painter is lettering with blue and gold” – (Great. So you’ve got some color in there to give it eyeball fleck) – “The canal boy trots on the tow-path, the book-keeper counts at his desk, the shoemaker waxes his thread” – (That’s terrific – “(T)he shoemaker waxes”. Of all the things that a shoemaker does, this is almost like drawing it down to that one thin line – “(T)he shoemaker waxes his thread”. You couldn’t get any more precise. You couldn’t focus the eye more precisely.

Peter Orlovsky: What’s a “tow-path”?

AG: Along the canals, they would have in those days, before there were gas engines, I presume, on barges, or before there were tow-boats for barges, they were towed with ropes, and there was a path alongside the canal, and people, boys, were hired to pull the boat up on ropes. So that’s “tow-path” – T-O-W (not T-O-E) T-O-W path

“…(The) shoemaker waxes his thread” – (Well that’s the real good example) – “The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him” – (He’s having fun here) – “The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions” – (Well, since he’s got opposites, sort of (the child baptized, the convert making his first professions), he doesn’t have to be too specific, because the specificity here, you might say, lies in the contrast, the opposites”)

“The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, (how the white sails sparkle!)  – (So he’s got it right there – “how the white sails sparkle!” – that’s the gimmick there – as an exclamation)<

Peter Orlovsky: What’s a “regatta”?

AG: A regatta is an assemblage of boats to go on a race, in a bay – Actually, see, there’s a lot of different ways of doing that too, of getting in that particularity, which Whitman or Kerouac or others have made use of. If you’ve written a more general line like, “The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun” (and) you still don’t have quite the full picture, you can say, “how the white sails sparkle!” – the afterthought, the afterimage in the mind’s eye, you just throw in as an exclamation point. 

“The peddler sweats with his pack on his back, (The purchaser higgling about the odd cent)” – “”Higgling” is funny, also. Just the “higgling” is enough to get up a little bit of dramatic activity there) –“The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly,/The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open’d lips” – (That’s pretty good, actually. That’s good observation, I would say, amongst us junkies!)

PO: Allen, do you want to hear one cut?
AG: Yeah
Student: “The camera and plate are prepared, the lady must sit for her daguerreotype”
AG: Daguerreotype
Student: Daguerreotype
AG: “The camera and plate are prepared, the lady must sit for her daguerreotype”. That would follow properly on (from) “The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly” in that instant the photo is taken (I don’t see why he cut that out, because they make a nice pair -You can make a whole soap opera there – By soap opera, I just mean a familiar dramatic eternal family scene).

“The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck” – (The sound is great – the “bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck” (and) that’s a complete Hogarth-ian caricature.) – “The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other,/ (Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you!)”

“ The President…” – (Okay, what’s he going to do with the President? He’ll stop at nothing, this Whitman! – Why not? Since it’s all imagination and observation, he can go anywhere he wants in his mind) – “The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Secretaries” – (“(T)he great Secretaries” –that’s a funny (phrase), that’s a Kerouac-ian thing – (“(T)he great Secretaries” – And then, actually, maybe related to that, would be the (C)abinet councilor’s wives – “On the piazza they walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms” – (or it might be the piazza ofAsbury Park for all you know) – “The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold” – (So he particularized the fish at least) – “The Missourian…”

I mean, how many of you (Naropa students) write poems where (you write something like) “I saw a bird cross the sky” (In fact, I was looking at a poem today, somebody was writing about “birds over the ocean”. And when I said, “Gee, bla-bla-bla, you know – “birds over the ocean?”. “Herring-gull”, she said – “Perfect. Herring-gull (you smell the ocean a little at that point) – So, – “The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold”

“The Missourian crosses the plains, toting his wares and his cattle,/As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by the jingling of loose change” – ( Boy, that’s good. That’s really nice. It’s so clear and so individualized, that piece of recollection, or remembrance, or noticing, or perception – “As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by the jingling of loose change” – That’s something that only one guy could have noticed and put down (like (William Carlos) Williams noticed, “turn the spigot, waiting for the water to freshen” – it’s of the same order of something-that-you-notice). It’s something real that you notice, that you get the point of, that you appreciate. You notice it and then you’re conscious of noticing it. And so you appreciate it. (And) so I would say that the poetics here is becoming conscious of what you already notice, or noticing what you notice – seeing what you see, or hearing what you hear – and that quality of humor that appreciates it. Because it is a humor thing. He “gives notice by the jingling of loose change”. I bet he laughed when he wrote that, realizing that, a hundred years later, people would recognize some clink of reality in it, some clink of Person, something that only a human being could do, (a machine can’t notice things like that – or you might compute them, but a machine can’t notice them, record them, and transmit them to other people over a hundred years – a little phenomenal crinkle), something that has to do with the senses, that only people with our senses would appreciate. And only people with developed senses would appreciate it or develop it into language or poetry so that others could relate to it and re-live it. It’s really not so much that the specific occasion, like the waxing of the thread, the jingling of the change, need to be familiar, or the whistling.. what was that? – “the whistling whine of the..”? – what was it?. (It’s a) rather interesting line. I forgot . What was that? Anybody find it?

Student: “His foreplane whistles..”
AG: What’s the whole phrase?
Student: “(H)is foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp”
AG: Yeah. “lisp”. It’s not only that we recognize the “wild ascending lisp” which we’ve heard, or the jingling of the coin, it’s that we recognize the quality of mind. It’s mind-to-mind. It’s reminding us of mind. Now everybody who writes poetry wants to remind everybody else of mind (and eternity and vastness and grandeur and blah and space – but you can only remind people of the mind of space by some detail within the space, which indicates that the mind is observing it. You can only indicate the vastness of reality by some little detail occurring accommodated in the vastness.)
Student: I don’t think.. I think there’s another way you can do it, through assorted music in the words that sort of conveys an emotion which can’t be captured by details (which) comes through, in a sort of song-like lyric, (in that case), it’s not really details that are so important, it’s the whole sound of the thing (which) conveys something (transcendent).

AG: Well, that’s true.

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