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View Full Version : The hatred of Walt Whitman and his influence on contemporary poetry.



Mermaid
June 2nd, 2016, 08:50 PM
The title may seem a tad bit deceiving.




In my discussions of influential writers of poetry with my brother, who I may add is more knowledgeable than me, expressed a strong dislike toward Walt Whitman. He used strong language to express this. As well as point out that he influenced contemporary poetry writing to be nothing but ripoffs of imagery, and visuals. Parallels to emotions, and feelings. He was quite loud in his wording, closer to a rant in his opinion.

Due to his strong dislike toward Whitman, he discriminates heavily toward anything with a trace of influence from Whitman. I am here asking your opinion on his opinion.

Do you agree?

Disagree?

Etc.

afk4life
June 2nd, 2016, 09:21 PM
I think it's sort of a strange argument to make. For one, there's a reason every English teacher will make you read at least some of his work -- he did have a very large influence, and that alone should be a reason to read him. Just because of what resulted from his writing? That's the one thing I keep saying is if you want to write, read as much as possible. Yeah, Walt Whitman's not really my cup of tea and it's not like modern poetry, but it mattered. If you're an aspiring poet and someone asks you about Leaves of Grass and you reply "What? Where'd you leave your grass?" you're not going to get a good reception. Poe or T.S. Eliot's more my taste, but I still read Whitman and Frost, because I know it's important to diversify your influences.

Mermaid
June 2nd, 2016, 09:31 PM
I can agree with you on that. Although all I can say is I take the book with a grain of salt, nothing about it made any suggestion that it was a knock off of visualizations. To be honest, I was quite shocked when my brother voiced his opinion on Mr.Whitman's type of writing, and his opinion that, "all contemporary writing," is a knock off continuation inspired by that book. If anything I completely disagree, but it is only an opinion.

Ariel
June 2nd, 2016, 10:15 PM
William Shakespeare used imagery and visual descriptions in his sonnets. Imagery is an integral part of poetry and it sounds like your brother doesn't know what he's talking about.

Mermaid
June 2nd, 2016, 10:17 PM
I gues the key words are "knock off visualizations." Like a certain type of style or certain way this particular author wrote his work? I have no idea honestly how to interpret it.

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aj47
June 2nd, 2016, 10:34 PM
I think everyone has their likes and dislikes. You should take recommendations in either direction with a grain of salt.

DruidPeter
June 3rd, 2016, 12:35 AM
Comment Deleted By Owner.

Ariel
June 3rd, 2016, 12:37 AM
I gues the key words are "knock off visualizations." Like a certain type of style or certain way this particular author wrote his work? I have no idea honestly how to interpret it.

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That was a little more harsh than I intended it, I apologize.

I think your brother was referencing the fact that Walt Whitman was a transistional poet--his work straddles the line between the transcendental and the realism movements. In transcendentalism (of which Ralph Waldo Emerson is the "father") spiritual and more philosophical ideas are explored whereas realism grounds everything in the real world.

Not enjoying a poet's work is fine. Hating all modern poetry because it's "derivative" of that poet's work is not. We can't all be romantic Byronic poets.

And, no, I'm not particularly fond of Walt Whitman nor of the stream-of-conciousness writers either.

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 12:47 AM
@druidpeter
It was quite obvious that in my brothers fit of rage he could have just been releasing pent up frustration with his dislike towards certain works in the contemporary form. But alas, due to opinion just being opinion I Will agree to disagree with you. Although I am quite interested in what you consider to be "Vague" and how so much of what people write seems to be what you suggest. I read the book a long time ago, the cover art being the only thing I remember, rather than the title or even his work. But I would remember if a work of fiction were so insulting for an individual to have the same reaction my brother did towards it. This is why I posted this topic. I was curious as to others opinion and how people are similar or dissimilar. How has it in your opinion become such badly viewed title in your eyes?

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 12:53 AM
@amsawtell

Makes sense. His work has barely made an impression on me in regards to enjoyment. Although years back in high school closer to my freshmen year I read a few of his poems for back up works for UIL. I performed an excerpt of his poem, given to me by my coach at the time, To Think Of Time during a Prose and Poetry competition, enabling me to get higher marks than if I were to use my original. (The judges were quite annoyed by the overused poem I had originally chosen) The only fond memory I suppose I have of the man's work even though that was the only poem I'm really familiar with as well as me not realizing who the author was till much later.

DruidPeter
June 3rd, 2016, 01:55 AM
Comment Deleted by owner.

Ariel
June 3rd, 2016, 02:44 AM
To be fair, I find it difficult to make it through Whitman's poems. I think the density of the lines is what does it to me.

DruidPeter
June 3rd, 2016, 03:13 AM
Comment Deleted by Owner.

clark
June 3rd, 2016, 03:25 AM
A friend in another forum sent me this link, suggesting I might be interested in contributing to the discussion. First of all, it is hardly a 'discussion'--an open exchange of ideas and information grounded is well-reasoned arguments around some kind of pivotal proposition--THAT would be a 'discussion'. What I see here is not unlike a verbal barroom brawl initiated by an anonymous lout who refers to one of the giants of world poetry as a "mother-fucking bastard" (adults don't need asterisks). When he died in 1892, Walt Whitman had been acknowledged by many of the principal literary figures of England and Europe, his major works had been translated into all significant European languages, plus Russian and Japanese, and he was revered in his own country. Ralph Waldo Emerson recognized the genius in his poetry even before Whitman came out with his first edition (just a few poems) of Leaves of Grass in 1855.

No matter what your ‘opinion’ of such a world-class artist, no matter how passionately you might reject the quality of his work, no matter how mournfully you might howl at the moon over his influence on subsequent poets…….you do NOT hurl dismissive obscenities at him and get away with it.

[I have to go out for the evening, but I thought I’d post this little preamble now. Like Macarthur and Arnold, “I’ll be back”]

Gyarachu
June 3rd, 2016, 04:26 AM
Ah, some good old-fashioned condescension followed by a vague threat. Just what this thread needed.

Now. Who is Walt Whitman?















I'm kidding, sheesh! Please don't hurt me (I'm watching you, Clark).

Obviously I don't agree with the OP's brother. If you don't like him, sure that's great. Burying more than a century's worth of poetic works because they may have been influenced by him? I'm not seeing a whole lot of logic there.

InstituteMan
June 3rd, 2016, 04:32 AM
I'm not a scholar of poetry, and I am a mere hack poet myself, but Whitman's work resonates with me in a way no other poet's work does. His imagery, the cadence of his words, and the honesty of his poetry all appeal to me. I first read Leaves of Grass because it was referenced in a science fiction novel I liked. I'd never read a book of poetry before, and I had no idea who Whitman was or how important his work was considered then, but it blew me away on its own merits.

No one is obliged to enjoy Whitman, but he's a giant in American letters with good reason.

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 04:37 AM
@clark

Calm down, no need to take this whole thing so seriously. It's a conversation on an opinion. No actually considers this an argument, not even me. And this website has a wide age group. So instead of bothering with the tags warning people about two words I wrote a row of asterisks instead.

@gyarachu

I'd like to point out how I said earlier that my brother simply might have been fustrated toward a specific type of style and not so much Walt Whitman himself.

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Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 04:38 AM
@instituteman

Im curious. What book reference his work?

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InstituteMan
June 3rd, 2016, 04:44 AM
@instituteman

Im curious. What book reference his work?



I think it was Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny. I was a big fan of Zelazny (still am), and Zelazny was a big fan of Whitman. Whitman is referenced in several of Zelazny's stories, so it may have been a different one of his books. It's been more than 25 years. :D

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 04:49 AM
How interesting! I do enjoy sci-fi, I have not heard of this author.

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McJibbles
June 3rd, 2016, 04:50 AM
Thanks to all of you, I now have to read Whitman's works and develop an opinion.

Can't yet decide if I'm going to curse you or thank you :)
I'm sure either way it will be a valuable experience.


I too will be back.

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 04:53 AM
Thanks to all of you, I now have to read Whitman's works and develop an opinion.

Can't yet decide if I'm going to curse you or thank you :)
I'm sure either way it will be a valuable experience.


I too will be back.
It may be both depending if you end up with an obssesion. Haha

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InstituteMan
June 3rd, 2016, 05:01 AM
How interesting! I do enjoy sci-fi, I have not heard of this author.


Zelazny is worth checking out. His work has fallen from it of the public eye since his death, but he was a writer's science fiction writer. He incorporated many literary elements--such as great poetry and mythology--into his work. Whitman is one of many gifts Roger Zelazny's work gave to me.

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 05:06 AM
Zelazny He incorporated many literary elements--such as great poetry and mythology--.

Have you read any of John C wright's work. His reference to mythology becomes more than just a theme in his three part series The Orphans of Chaos. Although his writing seems to be controversy with certain individuals, Wright seems to portray a mythical fantasy world with science and logic almost seemlessly as if fantasy and science fiction are of the same genetic makeup. IT'S BRILLIANT!


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InstituteMan
June 3rd, 2016, 05:14 AM
I've not read Wright, at least not yet. I fear my highest volume reading years to date were over by the time his books came out. I've got him on my long reading list, though. I'll be able to retire someday, right?

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 05:20 AM
Haha, a list we all have. I still have several books from my last shopping spree I haven't read yet.

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McJibbles
June 3rd, 2016, 05:33 AM
Just read four Whitman poems.
Can confirm that (as my generation would say) his works are on point. Insightful, beautiful, and connected with nature.

Then again, to each his own.

clark
June 3rd, 2016, 08:04 AM
@Mermaid. You are absolutely right, and I accept your gentle tap on the wrist (no slashing with that big tail!). There is a world of difference between a reasoned argument and a statement of opinion. The former has terms of reference and a shared platform on which both parties have agreed to stand and vie for position, using methods and strategies that they both recognize. The latter has two platforms which rarely ever touch. Each party stands on their platform and expresses their 'opinion' viz--ALL MEN ARE PIGS....let's toddle over to the other platform....MY HUSBAND IS A SAINT. Oh dang! What do we do now? These two women have absolutely nothing to say to each other now. Their 'opinions' are unassailable.
and so, dear finny lady, is your brother's 'opinion'--actually it's more a RANT than an opinion.. And so, thanks to your calming tap--------I'm out.

RHPeat
June 3rd, 2016, 08:42 AM
Tell your brother to use more toilet paper when spreading S _ _ T around.

Whitman's influence on modern English poetry is profound. He is not to be underestimated in the least. But the sources of his poetry might surprise your brother greatly and many others. To begin with the long lines that Whitman used are modeled after the from of versets in biblical text. Versets are also very similar in structure to Archibald MacLeish's component "the double compound metaphor" which is talked about in length in MacLeish's text book he wrote while teaching poetry at Yale University. (text book title: Poetry And Experience) MacLeish's text actually centers on 4 different types of poetry 1. The Private World/ example Emily Dickinson, 2. The Public World/ Example Yeats, 3. The Anti-World/ Example Rimbaud & 4. The Arable World/ Example Keats. Second half the text is actually dedicated to the actual work of these poet's in anthology form. The first half of the book is concerned with four major concerns or characteristics of all poetry throughout history: 1. Words as sounds/music, 2. Words as signs/ symbols, 3 Images/ the concrete as pure emotion, & 4. Metaphor/ the use of figurative language. It looks like we have to include Mr. MacLeish as one of the major players who was indirectly influenced by Whitman as well as other modern poets, including the confessional poets like Plath, Saxton & others. No one can escape the fact that Whitman had a profound influence on every major movement in modern poetry world wide since his book was published, both directly and indirectly.

But one must realize that free verse was also being practiced in France long before Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" was published in the USA. Probably by about 50 years or more. So free verse isn't something that Whitman invented on his own. But we could say it is Whitman's unique talent with free verse as a means of presenting the modern sage that makes Whitman stand out in poetic history. Leaves of Grass is international; it's been published into many languages. It is well liked in Asia as well as Europe. One thing we can say about his poetry is that he did it well.

Other modern schools of poetry that he also influenced where the beat poets, as well as the Black Mountain School of poetry; which included poets like Creeley whose famous quote was noted by Charles Olson and holds a huge understanding for contemporary poets: That form is an extension of content and that content is an extension of form. Which is probably one of the most significant understandings of contemporary poetry. Thank goodness that others are still experimenting with form when it comes to poetry. For language isn't something that is stagnant at all; it has real entropy to keep it alive and changing like the universe at large.

A poet friend
RH Peat

clark
June 3rd, 2016, 09:14 PM
Dang! I said I was 'out', but Ron's post has pulled me back 'in'. Ron mentioned that language is constantly evolving and changing, constantly adapting and moving, like a wheatfield in the wind--rooted in the ground it serves but constantly reacting to the forces brought to bear on it. Historically the poets of any culture at any time are the agents thru whom language survives. A culture records and preserves its Art, not its spec sheets on how to build a siege catapult. Whitman's poetry, and his long poetic line, is not some kind of cancerous growth that erupted on its own. As Ron points out, his long line is his particular iteration of an ancient kind of descriptive writing, sanctioned in holy writ of the Western tradition. This elaborate descriptive kind of poetry is also fundamental to the complex Anglo-Saxon poetic line, surprisingly complex in structure for a pre-literate culture. That poetic line mirrors the structure of the culture it serves. And here is a point that might give even Mermaid's brother a moment of pause: Whitman was writing at a time of huge political upheaval (civil war) AND huge expansionism in the burgeoning United States (still less than a hundred years past that tea party). From the end of the Civil War to his death in 1892 a tsunami of hope, optimism, and eager movement swept your young nation. People were on the move, the West was opening up, And whether mentally and socially or literally, people were sprawling and tumbling and embracing new prospects and new ideas. . .so Whitman's long, descriptively luxurious line was not only the best vehicle for his particular kind of genius, it was the best vehicle for the ambitions and values of American culture at that time.

Finally, as Ron noted, Robert Creeley's famous pronouncement: FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT. It is my personal hope that before I stop writing poetry (on my deathbed) I might come to understand that statement not only with my critical mind, but also in my poetry itself. That statement holds for all poetry in all times. I've already suggested how it holds for Whitman's poetic line, but here's one more illustration of the marriage between poetic form and cultural NEED. The 18th-Century in England was a time of great conservatism in English politics, social institutions, and artistic values. Radicalism of ANY kind was vigorously opposed. Thinkers and writers looked back for their models to what they construed to be the golden age of art and thought--the Augustan Age of Rome, hundreds of years before. And the poetic form that naturally evolved during that period to reflect those tight, constrained, and conservative values. . .was the closed or so-called 'Heroic' couplet. Here's a famous quote from Alexander Pope that shows form and the poetic values of the time in perfect harmony [please note that in the 18th C. the word "wit" denoted intelligence , not humour]:

True wit is Nature to advantage dressed--
What oft was thought but ne'er so well-expressed.

There's another reason to mention Pope and Whitman in the same breath. Whitman is accused--I think only by a few, but I could be wrong there--of setting a precedent that has 'corrupted' much of modern poetry. Whitman thought, I'm pretty sure, he was just writing poetry. He might not even have realized he was a demon who would destroy poetry in America for the next hundred and fifty years. Alexander Pope wrote ALL of his hundreds of lines of long poems in closed couplets. . .and did it so well that he has been accused, in some bitterness, of destroying the form for all lesser lights who might choose to try it. The only lesson -- try as I might -- that I can get from this kind of 'reasoning' is: don't you DARE excel at what you do, lest the brilliance of your light blind the unborn aspirants who might come along in the future.

I think Pope and Whitman, who have absolutely nothing in common, would have a thigh-slapping hooting-good ol' couple of mugs of wine over THAT one.

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 09:38 PM
@clark wow! I enjoyed the history lesson. I never knew such a huge history was behind Whitman. All the more reason to reread and educate myself on his works and form a more educated opinion. I also thank you for your mature answer, I feared there may have been too much tension in the earlier posts. >.>

DruidPeter
June 3rd, 2016, 10:07 PM
Comment Deleted by Owner.

DruidPeter
June 3rd, 2016, 11:24 PM
Comment Deleted by Owner.

RHPeat
June 4th, 2016, 09:41 AM
It sounds like a poet that takes themselves too serious. What it boils down to is I only write for myself, oh how I hate that Thick BS. That's just one big ego. All art is about communication. Please step off the soap box. I'll be sure to write your name in for president this Tuesday.
:rofl:

a poet friend
RH Peat

DruidPeter
June 4th, 2016, 01:11 PM
lol. You have a wonderful way of popping the proverbial windbag in the room, RHPeat. I can think of no better way to end a discussion such as this one, and on such good terms! Thank you for that, and I shall speak no more on the topic.

::EDIT::

Comment Retained by Owner. :P

Mermaid
June 4th, 2016, 07:03 PM
Quite a soap box indeed, but an enjoyable clash of wit.

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McJibbles
June 6th, 2016, 04:17 PM
Totally unimportant, and usually it wouldn't bother me, but for some reason is: "Whitman" I'm the title is currently spelled with an e...

... no me importa

aj47
June 6th, 2016, 04:27 PM
I'm a moderator -- I fixed it. I thought I was the only one annoyed by it.

Jeko
June 20th, 2016, 03:00 AM
Don Paterson blames Pound for everything wrong with poetry today, but even he just went and followed Pound's ethos himself.

Simon Armitage thinks it has a lot to do with how poetry is taught in schools, rather. Attended a lecture by him last year (I get to attend one by him every term, woo~) and he ranted for a good twenty minutes on how stupid the 'blind poetry' exam we have in English Lit exams in England is.

clark
June 27th, 2016, 11:29 PM
@DruidPeter -- thank you for your private note, the gist of which was that you hoped I would respond to your lengthy and detailed post re: Whitman and the long line, posted earlier this month. I have NO idea how I missed your posts when the issue was under current discussion here. . .but that is exactly what happened. I read them for the first time ten minutes ago. You raise some excellent points and, in some instances, argue your position effectively. In other instances, you state opinions (matters of taste) and of course there is nothing to be said there except 'uh-huh'. Most of the issues about poetics and aesthetics that you bring up have been argued by Ron and me et al in other forums (before we came to WF) for literally tens of thousands of words and, with all respect--because these issues are clearly of concern to you--I'm not too interested in getting into them again. I hope you understand. I don't know your geographical location, but these issues are a two-nighter-many-drinks discussion in a local pub, wherein we will resolve absolutely nothing but have a hell of a good time going nowhere. Alternatively, you are welcome to post a discussion topic on MET 3. If you do, please ask a narrow, focused question. If it sprawls--"How does a poet decide what kind of line length to use in free verse?"--it will get little or no response and just fizzle out

I will respond to one of your statements about the high regard in which I hold Creeley's comment about form and content. You wrote: "For you to uphold that statement, and regard it so highly as indicative of any sort of wisdom of truth... I imagine it would not sit well with you for someone to so simply and decisively "dismiss" it. Yet I do, and would consider a life spent in trying to understanding such a statement to be a wasted one. This is not just because of how I feel the statement to be in error, but also because to my way of thinking it doesn't seem to require much effort to understand the full intent and meaning of said statement." The first section I boldfaced I choose to consider simply careless and hasty writing, for it is a direct personal insult and the tone of the rest of your post is not insulting. My reaction to insults is not pretty; besides, personal insults are not permitted under Met 3 Guidelines, which you might wish to review. The second boldfaced section--which takes a shot at my intelligence while implicitly praising yours--simply betrays a superficial understanding of the complex poetics of Creeley and Charles Olson. This is not merely a matter of 'opinion'.

Finally, you challenge my statement that poetry is the primary repository of our knowledge of linguistic change , and the primary means by which we can trace the ever-evolving drift of language thru time. I don't think you gave any examples of other kinds of documents that performed this role more extensively than poetry. But then neither did I document my claim (such is the way of it, I find, in these forums. We simply do not have the time, or the at-hand libraries to back up our points. We aren't writing research papers, after all. ) It is noteworthy, though, that some poetry survived A-S times--Beowulf, a couple of other fragmentary epics, the Riddle poems, some devotional stuff. I'm not aware of any other documents in any kind of quantity, that survived? So why did the poetry survive? Perhaps because these texts were used daily by the minstrels? Again, DruidPeter, I could go on and on about the invaluable work done in linguistic geography to help us understand the movements, lifestyles, laws and values of our ancestors--90% of it from surviving literature. One quick example: .Chaucer wrote in the midlands dialect, a dialect that was to become the dominant dialect in England. Chaucer's poetry, for the most part, is NOT difficult to read and understand. A very few miles away--a couple of valleys thataway--lived a poet, never identified to this day, who wrote a long poem called THE PEARL. This poem, contemporary to Chaucer and written within a few miles of Chaucer, is unreadable for most modern readers because it is much closer to modern German than to modern English. My point is straightforward: poetry survived and presents the record of evolving language for two reasons-- 1] minstrels in, say, 1350, needed TEXT, because they had to recite and 2] poetry was linguistic art. It was respected on that level and preserved because of it. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the world's oldest surviving piece of writing (as far as I know), a poem from about 3800 BC. is the ONLY piece of writing that survived from that misty time in the past. I doubt that poetry has survived down thru the ages to help us understand the massive shifts in language that have occurred, just by accident. But I can't prove that.

So now, Peter--may I call you Peter?--we share a deep interest in these issues, and a deep love of poetry. I very much hope we can pursue those interests with mutual vigor and respect. . .and if fate and geography permit us to meet.........the first round is on me.

Robbie
June 28th, 2016, 03:34 AM
Ron is right. Grammar evolves. I would never have believed that "their" could be applied to a singular. I am trying to work on the concept. Is it correct and how or is it changed? I don't want to be stuck in the mud. I cannot put together a sentence which makes "their" singular. Call me old school or explain it to me carefully, I am open minded and willing to learn.