P.O.E.T.S. Day: Walt Whitman, The Anti-P.O.E.T.S. Day “Poet”

Walt WhitmanFrom the more rugged part of the British Isles, where whisky is spelled properly, we take the P.O.E.T.S day tradition (Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday). This week’s patron falls somewhat outside of the traditional P.O.E.T.S. Day mold, having never been in prison, died of natural causes, and only rumored to have been tarred and feathered for sodomy although all his biographers call BS. Side note: who believes I have read all his biographers?

When someone says modern in poetry, they rarely mean modern in the modern sense. They mean modern in the passe, pre-Post-Modern sense. Historian Paul Johnson captured the mood of in his excellent Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830According to Johnson, Einstein and Freud did science and non-scientific types adapted the concepts to everyday life. Relativity seeped into the psyche, so to speak. I’m on record as loving Modern Poetry while generally hating modern poetry. The former were kick ass war poets who had serial muses while the latter net less scribblers have so cheapened the form by including any indented rant as poetry that nothing can not be counted as a poem. P.J. O’Rourke, In Holidays In Heck, quips, “More modern poetry is written than read.” He’s right. Rhyme and meter are hard and require real work. Free verse requires a turtle neck, a sense of entitlement, and a deep distrust of parental values. Whitman, the father of free verse, is to blame.

Take the average interesting P.O.E.T.S. Day patron; rapscallion, spy(?), criminal, deviant, and drunk. Whitman: patron of the library, debate club member, teacher, newsman, and nurse. Sure, his book, Leaves of Grass, was considered sexually offensive but that’s an application, not an acceptance. Besides, even he didn’t like that book to judge by the number of times he edited it. Promising hints of scandal are tempered. E.g.: he may have been fired from the Daily Mail, but probably left. Wither the scandal?

Speaking of temper, rather than have a notable one full of bar brawls and stabbings, he attached -ence to the root and bespoke teetotallism. He wrote numerous screeds against demon alcohol. To his credit, he admitted to being occasionally drunk while writing them. Not enough

So steel yourself to a mental battle with your boss. Apply cunning, fake a stroke, invent a suffering aunt, epilepsy should be researched thoroughly before attempting but nothing is off the table. Get out of the office early. Hunker up to a bar and whet your whistle in defiance of the man who sowed the seeds of the end of verse. Asshat.

I found a short one:

A Noiseless Patient Spider

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

– Walt Whitman

For those in Birmingham, I’ll be at Good People until 5:30. Shout “O Captain, My Captain!” upon arriving. We’ll cull you from the crowd.

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