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I also, just finished reading the chapter that Jonah Lehrer wrote on Whitman in his recent Proust was a Neuroscientist. Lehrer discusses Whitman’s ‘fusion of body and soul’ as an unprecedented event in letters, and an event that precipitated the modern tendency to root everything in biology and explain every mood and behavior as an act of neurotransmission.
So, the poet I once called the poster child of self-absorbed slackers really does have some heft, some gravitas, after all. I find it so, so funny that his reputation built as his body decomposed. I think that thought might even make Emerson chuckle – or at least crack a smile. But maybe I’m flattering myself…
I've always seemed to carry a little affection for Mr. Whitman, while Kerouac makes me want to slap the nearest twenty-something, fake-bohemian guy living in his parents' garage apartment, but that could very well just be me.
Mr. Whitman could at least pull off some beauty.
You can sniff out the Kerouac poseurs a mile away ... looking for the scroll, man. If I could make my eyes roll any louder, I would.
Enevada, Justin Kaplan is Whitman's most-hardcore biographer, so having him be the one to write that essay makes perfect sense.
Most Beat stuff, especially Kerouac's prose are personal stories of grasping life by the throat after several years in Hell, and asking the BIG questions.
There is nothing here that's new or unique, in fact On the Road was compared to The Sun Also Rises when it was published. Just another Lost Generation burning it's candle at both ends. People who "discover life" via Kerouac most likely suffered through the American High School Learning Experience in which they were taught little about life and lots about the value of belonging. When they discover Kerouac and the Beats they just wig out about how cool it is. For many of them it may be their first experience with eastern spiritual themes, but it is certainly not the best place to go for enlightenment.
"Get your motor runnin',
Head out on the highway,
Lookin' for adventure,
And whatever comes our way. . ."
But I do read Leaves often, several times a year. I like it better as we both age, which amuses me.
My ol' man, a Canuck curmudgeon (who thought the rendition of "One Toke Over the Line" on the Lawrence Welk Show was a Gospel song) also thought the Village People were THE most wholesome, wonderful, patriotic, heterosexual group in the world.
Now I've got to clear my head and submit myself to at least a dozen doses of this mother-son (Elijah Blue on guitar) ditty:
Fell upon this quote today;
“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering... these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love... these are what we stay alive for.”
-- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass --
There is much life advice contained in his observations, as he attempts to describe them, if one sets out to find it, through diligent repetition. I hope that you give it another chance to grow on you.
Fell upon this link while looking up something else and thought perhaps the comparison of these 20 poets might help explain why Whitman is at the top of the list as the most influential, and earliest, of the modern approach to poetry.