What Would Whitman Do?

Oh, hey, blog.  I almost forgot about you, despite telling you I was going to post every day now.

I would like to riff on the gifts we have received, as poets, from a man in a jaunty hat named Walt Whitman.  I’m TA-ing for Diane Seuss’ Intermediate Poetry class right now, and she starts out by teaching Whitman and Ginsberg.  Her theory is that we can learn by beginning with large brush strokes, coloring with abandon rather than within the lines.  After Whitman and Ginsberg, we’ll move on to poets like Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and Clifton, who do big things with little poems.  For now, though, it’s Whitman, with his larger-than-life campy persona, inviting us to lean and loafe with him, because what he shall assume, we shall assume.

Whitman is not afraid to take up space—that may be the single most important thing we take away from him.  Lean and f***in’ loafe, people.  This was a difficult lesson for me when I was a freshman in Intermediate Poetry.  It was Spring quarter, and I was at the very lowest low of an existential breakdown.  The assignment was to write either a “song,” with movements, in the style of Whitman, or a “howl” after Ginsberg.  I didn’t feel up to celebrating anything in song, but, at the same time, I didn’t think I had enough energy left in me to howl about anything.  So, I opted for what I thought floated somewhere in between—a battle hymn.  I remember how odd it felt to just let the lines run on and on.  I hadn’t written in weeks.  What resulted from that poem was a momentum that almost knocked me off my feet, and pulled me out of the cave inside myself I hadn’t left for a long time.

I’m submitting that poem to K’s literary magazine, The Cauldron. There’s something about it that still haunts me to this day.  I remember not being able to read it out loud in workshop, because I was always on the verge of crying.  I was slightly reluctant to submit it, because it will, most definitely, take up a lot of space.  After having that thought, I asked myself WWWD (what would Whitman do)?  And I hit send.

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2 Responses to What Would Whitman Do?

  1. Di Seuss says:

    What a lovely, succinct statement on the joys and terrors of the wide line. Thank you, Kim.

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