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It’s strange how things work out

May 17, 2010

It’s strange how things work out.

Back when I was in Junior High School if you’d told me that many years later (okay…many…MANY years later) I’d have some expertise in the field–the craft–of poetry I’d’ve said you were nuts. Or If you’d told me I’d be reading poems on the radio or that I’d have a few poems published or that I’d actually give talks about poets and their poetry I’d have told you there was a better chance of my being President or a brain surgeon. Granted I’d scored pretty high In English aptitude but I hated the way poetry was “taught” back then. Well, to start, it wasn’t taught, it was drilled into us. Every year we’d have to memorize vast chunks of Shakespeare’s plays or some god awful poems by guys who were long dead. I hated rote learning and soon got a reputation for being difficult because I refused to play along. I refused to cram that stuff into my head. I saw no point to it. I still don’t.

It wasn’t until I got to College and took a class on the poetry of Walt Whitman that I began to fall in love with the art. When I wandered into that classroom and heard the words “I sing the body electric…” my ears, my eyes and my mind opened to poetry for the first time.

It was a time in my life when everything around me, myself included, was “singing electric”. I didn’t stick with poetry at that time–too many things to do, to discover and experience–but at least my heart had been opened to it. It wouldn’t be until many years later, when I started doing my radio show, “Graffiti”, that I again opened myself up to the joys of poetry.

Recently I was asked to participate in an event dedicated to poetry, music and ecology. The name of the event was The Green Fuse (click here for video) and it was organized by a group I’m closely associated with in Stamford, CT called PoemAlley. I’d decided that Whitman, even after more than a hundred years, spoke the words best suited for such a celebration.

This past Thursday I decided to continue the celebration and dedicate the May 6 edition of “Graffiti” to the arrival of Spring and all the things we associate with the season.

I opened with…

I sing the body electric….

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Those lines comes from Book 4 of Leaves of Grass, the book entitled: Children of Adam. From here I bounced through different passages of the poem and choose the verses that I thought best exemplified the ideals of the season: Love. The Sun. Faith in renewal.

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate
into new tongue.

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

Book 3 (Song of Myself) verse 21

Now if a thousand perfect men were to appear it would not amaze me,
Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appear’d it would not
astonish me.

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

Book 7 (Song of the Open Road) verse 6

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg
of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

Book 3 (Song of Myself) verse 31

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.

Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to measure itself,
It provokes me forever…

Now I will do nothing but listen,
To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.

Book 3 (Song of Myself) parts of verse 25 & 26

A Song of Joys

O to make the most jubilant song!
Full of music–full of manhood, womanhood, infancy!
Full of common employments–full of grain and trees.

O for the voices of animals–O for the swiftness and balance of fishes!
O for the dropping of raindrops in a song!
O for the sunshine and motion of waves in a song!

O the joy of my spirit–it is uncaged–it darts like lightning!
It is not enough to have this globe or a certain time,
I will have thousands of globes and all time.

Book 11 (A Song of Joys)

From there I went on to read from various Greek poets including Cavafy, Seferis, Katzantzakis, Elytis and Sappho. I also played “Home At Last” from Steely Dan’s great disk, Aja. The lyrics evoke the tale of Odysseus being tied to the mast of his ship as he passed by the Sirens.

These are the books I read from during this program:

The Modern Library edition of Leaves of Grass with an introduction by William Carlos Williams.

Stung with Love, Poems and Fragments by Sappho translated by Aaron Poochigian.

Greece In Poetry, edited by Simoni Zafiropoulos.

C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Keeley and Sherrard, edited by Savidis.

The bodies of the two books listed above bulge with strips of paper marking cherished poems–that, and constant usage, have rendered them nearly unrecognizable.

The next volume is well on it’s way to becoming like its companions above: The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present. For more about this volume see my earlier posting: Graffiti, January 14, 2010–a conversation with Peter Constantine. This is a conversation about The Greek Poets…Peter was one of its editors.

Other then Steely Dan I used music composed by Eleni Karaindrou (Elegy of the Uprooting) and Manos Hadjidakis (Gioconda’s Smile).

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