Monday, August 18, 2008

Leaves of Grass: the Jacqui's Room Notes

In which I lament that my yawp isn't more barbaric.

I want to make you a video masterpiece celebrating Walt Whitman's celebration of the world in "Song of Myself." Can you try to picture it? I want to start with a close up of a blade of grass, green and shining in bright, bright sun, and zoom out to open fields with insects hopping. I want Garrison Keillor reading Leaves of Grass aloud to you:

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belong to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease...observing a spear of summer grass.

I want to flash to indoors, to students poring over books, to people slaving away in cubicles, and for you to hear Keillor/Whitman calling you:

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 the sun

And now we flash to clips of all of humanity, as Whitman describes it in list after list, detail after detail, in the poem:

The pure contralto sings in the organloft,
The carpenter dresses his plank...the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their thanksgiving dinner,
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,
The mate stands braced in the whaleboat, lance and harpoon are ready...

And we hear Whitman's challenge to his own writing -- that it be universal and speak to all of us:

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing or next to nothing,

If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing,

If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,

If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

Here, I want the images to get faster and faster as Whitman describes all the people his poem is for:

It is for the is for the judges of the supreme is for the federal capitol and the state capitols,
It is for the admirable communes of literary men and composers and singers and lecturers and engineers and savans,
It is for the endless races of working people and farmers and seamen.

I want the images to flash so quickly that they blur and give the vague impression of the human body, which fades even further into a shadowy ghost as Keillor reads:

I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul.

And with that, I want the scene to explode and become an ocean, placid but vast. The camera moves across it slowly as we hear Whitman's invitation to dive with him into the unknown, to challenge ourselves, to live life to the fullest and however else you might interpret it:

Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore,
I will you to be a bold swimmer,

To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again and nod to me and shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

And with that, we are at the edge of the cliffs that overlook the ocean. The camera faces the water and Keillor reads the challenge, the line that I will use as my excuse for not doing a better job summarizing Leaves of Grass:

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

And I want to go back to the grass suddenly, in time to hear Whitman ask:

Who wishes to walk with me?

And you would shout, "Me! Me! I want to walk with you! I want to spend a year lying in the grass analyzing Whitman and celebrating the presence of the divine in everything and, if you believe Harold Bloom and others, doing things I shouldn't mention in a children's blog, and listening to my soul!" And we would all marvel at the egotism and the brilliance of a man proposing that the world needs a poet to speak for all humankind, and that he be that poet, and then doing it. And we would stand amazed at the lyricism, and at the sensuality and we would read aloud our favorite passages and sing that "Sing the Body Electric" song and...

Sigh. Alas, I have only a cell phone video camera and part time day care. So instead, I leave you with the screenplay for my masterpiece, and with this:

I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen,
And accrue what I hear into myself...and let sounds contribute toward me.


Elise Murphy said...

Oh. My. I feel. Awed. Yes, that is the only word to describe time with Walt. I think I need to pull out my copy and read for awhile. And then go BE for awhile.

I love your screenplay.

I shall sit here AWED now.

Jacqui said...

Yes, he makes you sorry the word "awesome" has had its power diminished, truly.

Kristi Valiant said...

Awed is the word to describe it.

My book for this week was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I must say I was awed by that as well. During the scene in the Antarctic where the main character and fellow adventurers almost suffocate, I found I was taking shallow breaths and getting light-headed not wanting to use up the available air around me. How engrossing!

I loved his descriptions of life underwater that gave intriguing facts (and fiction!), but didn't go to Moby Dick extremes by describing mundane anatomic details. It was a delightful read.

Jacqui said...

Kristi, that is brilliant about you monitoring your breathing. I may have to go back to 20,000 Leagues...

Diane T said...

See, this is the kind of work that makes you say, "Yes! poetry is wondrous, exciting, alive! How could you not love poetry?"

Then you try to write it...

Anyway, I'm rectifying the glaring gap in my American Lit experience this week by attempting Thoreau's Walden. Whitman would be more exciting, but I'll try my best to feel nature's glory through prose.

J. Thorp said...

Wow! For I moment I thought I might sing the body electric - but this didn't seem to be the right venue ...

: )

Jacqui said...

Thorp, the song's been in my head all week; I'm counteracting Wizard of Oz with Fame...

Diane, yeah. Whitman is the kind of writer that makes me say, "Well, he said it; now I don't have to."

Amber Lough said...

Wow, Jacqui, where do you get the time? Honestly. Please send a little my way.

Other news: found out which house I'm moving into next month, so I, too, will be surrounded by boxes.

Jacqui said...

Amber, congrats on the move.

And as for where I find the time, I explain the sad, sad truth here.

Write2ignite said...

It has been soooo long since I read this. I need to break it out...


Mary Witzl said...

I was moved and impressed by this too. Garrison Keillor reading Walt Whitman is heady stuff, and I love Leaves of Grass. I love the idea of writing for everyone, too.

As for where you get the time, we are in the same club, and thank God there are others like me! I iron for weddings and funerals; I rarely clean the shower, and although I do keep my hand in on non-fiction, the only other things I do on your list are glancing at newspapers) occasionally) and weeding. But the weeding is a fluke: I only do it when I've got writer's block and can't think my way through plots.

Jacqui said...

Mary, isn't Keillor's voice perfect? I only wish I had him reading the whole thing. And I bake through blocks...