Monday, September 17, 2012

Personal Challenge - Susan Chast and 'Yawp'

Friends have asked where I disappeared to, and the answer is that I have been enjoying some time with the dead white male inventor of free verse, Mr. Walt Whitman.  Kerry challenged me to chose a quote from him and write a poem in respond to it.  I did, and you'll read that one below.
Wouldn't you know though, I reread half of "Leaves of Grass" in the process and wrote responses to a few of the little ones.  Here is one of those:  Whitman's  poem is first and mine follows.

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.

by Walt Whitman 
In 1867 edition of “Leaves of Grass”

O my Soul

I would my soul were like the silent patient spider,
who spins and spins until its goal is met, and then
again sits and waits for dinner to come to him,  but
I who write much about ever-teaching Nature,  have
a spirit more like an angry young stream  leaping
from its spring with the swagger of youth cutting
corners and taking dares all the way to the salt sea.
Soul is the stream and the spring and also
the action of the race and the goad, yea and the sea.

by Susan Chast
Copyright © 2012 S.L.Chast

YAWP is a noun meaning a scream, a yell, a raucous sound.
(The  Photo of the red-tailed hawk in flight is free share Creative Commons)
Walt Whitman 1

On Wed, 12 Sept. 2012, Kerry O'Connor  wrote: “I would like to challenge you to select a quote from Walt Whitman's writing and use it as inspiration for a poem of your own."  She gave me a great link for extracts from his poetry and writing, and encouraged me to use any quote I wanted.   Whitman's  "Song of Myself" is my favorite.  In this 52-part poem, published in Leaves of Grass, he uses first-person narration to celebrate all of Nature through his power of empathy: He sees "that of God" equally in all living things and in both genders.  Therefore, he places spirit, soul and faith above organized religion and personal experience above the priesthood. He shows himself as a kind of everyman coming to terms with variety in life from birth through death.  However he is also a poet, and in the quote I chose from the final section  of "Song of Myself," Whitman speaks as if he is dying or already gone, having left behind his poems. (His poem is below, following mine.)


Last Sunday,  God asked me and I asked God: “What do we have to do to be heard?” Must we hover over all, raise our numbers? or reduce them and become endangered species?

To get on the list with Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers and Amur Leopards,
To be ready to disappear with Leatherback Sea Turtles and Siberian Tigers,

To be half gone already like the ice in the Arctic Tundra and the Greater Himalayas

To enter the half lives of politicians and the half deaths of generals
To give up the languages of the spheres and  invent  new ones in the latest green profit
To give up awakening one at a time and instead preach to the converted

This is the problem with priests: they hear God in their own images and forget these are only images of spirit (much larger than self, much more than we can never know.)
This is the problem with priests: they worry about the appearance and history of God rather than the tasks and questions at hand (posed by God, who, unlike priests, has no ego.  This is the least we know.)
This is the problem with priests, they take on the word to re-dictate it (rather than to show their flocks how to hear and then to listen.)
This is the problem with priests: they forget that a living God still speaks daily and nightly (through all of creation including men, women, and children)

Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student. 
The student’s problem is not who to hear but who to listen to
The teacher’s danger is being heard:
Someone might listen and follow blindly

This was my fear about teaching Kindergarteners: 
What if the room full of little ones listened and smiled as a group?? 
What if they believed me? 
I sought those who would resist,
who would approach the brick walls of understanding
I sought those who would  join me 
who would knock on brick-blocked doors
who would wail while forcing our little writings into cracks in the surface

I sought those benevolent leaders who would be affected by the swelling paper
who would read the writing on the wall as it bled through
who would look where we suffer together
who would see that we also  rejoice because we hear each other and listen

I seek those who speak and listen with hearts, arms, hands, bellies, backbones, and spirit. 

I was born a teacher, but spent my life learning:
I learned that I teach people, that subjects rise and fall
I learned that I need to learn people, that I have always been more open to other species
I learn that I feel moments of triumph when people  began to delight in their own voices 
I learn that learning is driven by  curiosity
I learn that learning to communicate  well is facilitated by having something to say to another and to many, each according to need

What canst thou say?  God asks me and I ask God.
I say we are already an endangered species as well as an endangering species,that I am no different from anyone else, and everyone’s voice is different
that we carry spirit, and  spirit carries us
that I trust this, having faith in but no knowledge of God
that I get closer to spirits’ mediums circling with hawks
that I sound this yawp out into the world, not wanted and wanted
that I will not hide my Light, I will leave it here

I say that the life of a teacher, student, poet, singer is a life of necessityjust as is the life of a carpenter,  farmer,  electrician, and any other worker bee, spider, and coyote who walks the earth.

by Susan Chast
Copyright © 2012 S.L.Chast

“Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself #52”
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
The End!


Kerry O'Connor said...

This is such a rich post, Susan, one full of wisdom and ideas to ponder deeply. I love your response to Whitman's spider spinning its web: that you say you have a spirit more like an angry young stream...

And your 'Yawp' is deeply self-analyzing, as well as a thought-provoking criticism of the state of the world as we know it. Not even the threat of extinction will stop the destructive side of man's nature, and you're not afraid to say it. Preach, sister!

Margaret said...

I was much taken with O My Soul and may even prefer it to Whitman's. Your second poem was a bit hard for me to read as it seems you lump all priests together. And that there is no right or wrong, that everyone's truths are equal (or that they can be assured in their own understanding of it). I think that is part of our problem, that everyone has become their own "Pope" so to speak. But that is just me, and your poem bares your soul, your thoughts, in a honest and splendid way. It makes one think, and that is always a good thing.

This is an excellent challenge and response. I have Walt On my bookshelf (my son thought I would like him ) and I am going to start reading it tonight. Thank you and Kerrry both.

Susie Clevenger said...

Susan, your work here leaves me in awe. "The trouble with priests" really resonates with me. You have taken what I have felt/am feeling and gave it a voice.
Kerry, thank you for challenging Susan with Walt Whitman.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh, WOW. What a rich wealth of inner wisdom to happen upon this morning. Kerry, fantastic challenge and Susan, no one could have met it more fully. I am in awe, like Susie, as this is a profound piece of writing, containing so much richness. So much to think about, so much to turn around in one's mind. O my Soul is absolutely magnificent. And I, too, preferred your poem to Whitman's. Deep ponderings, expressed so well. Wow.

Herotomost said...

Laying ones soul on the line like you did in Yawp is a hard thing to do and you did an unbelievable job of threading the personal needle and creating a great poem. And the first one was truly amazing...I love Whitmans, but yours I think I like equally as much. Way to raise that bar for the rest of us...holy cow. Great job.

Far Beyond The Ridge said...

Wow! I've been reading "just horses" for a long while, and didn't even know you were part of gardens n toads!
I started smilin when i reached the angry stream, and still do.
Me to:)

Far Beyond The Ridge said...

Oops! Sorry susan, getting my blogger wires crossed~horses is margaret (this comes from blogging on a phone while driving thru cincy~yeah, i know. Bad rick!)
I love what you say about priests. So true. Is it any wonder things are as they are. Too many cooks in the kitchen, and very few good ones.
And me too~not to
Cripes, i better drive!

Margaret said...

Thanks, Susie, for the email. I want to clarify... that I DO like your poem very much despite it being a bit hard for me to read in places. Your artistic approach to voicing what you feel (and so many others) is done wonderfully! I think there are many great teachers and priests who have given of themselves and in the way you "wish" for. Of course, there are those who have caused much damage...

I read your poem with a grieving and sad heart BECAUSE I understand and in some way do agree with you. I also think nature is as close as we can possibly get to God in this world (and that is coming from a Catholic who believes in the "presence" of the consecrated eucharist!) I wouldn't want read poems and books that only conform to what I believe in. And sometimes, I have listened and pondered a work and changed my heart/mind.

I have been reading Walt Whitman this afternoon and have been quite taken with his free verse poetry during the Civil War! Wow. A poem I am very fond of and plan on reading every day this week (so I can soak it in) is "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" . Have you read that one?

Susan said...

Oh yes. Whitman may have been the only poet who served in the Civil War, as a nurse, I believe.I'll give you that one and raise you this one:

"A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Grey and Dim"

A SIGHT in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first
just lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray'd hair,
and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step- and who are you my child and darling?
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third- a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of
beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you- I think this face is the face of the
Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.

Susan said...

Kerry: I am grateful that we challenge each other, that raw as my yawp is--it is a yawp! Your comment is generous and encouraging. And yeah, if it has a spider guide in it, I go to it like a magnet!

Mary said...

I enjoyed this, Susan!! Lots of depth here.

Susan said...

Everyone: Thank you! I truly hesitated to post my "Yawp" knowing the shorter poem was much more polished. Posting it felt like jumping off a high dive and, yet, here on "landing" I find the water warm and deep, and a readership who knows about laying out the soul. You are the best! Wow.

Rinkly Rimes said...

My rushed little effort.

Margaret said...

Yes, Susan... I just read that one about an hour ago and I was struck by it! Wow. In as much as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me... It sent CHILLS through me. When I visited Antietam National Battleground, I purchased a book "Now the Drum of War" about Walt Whitman. I dug it up and am reading it now.

Scarlet said...

What a challenge Kerry, I am reading the linked quotes, indeed food for thought ~

Susan, I like the way you responded to Whitman's writings ~ I can imagine you reading this with a lot of fervor and energy, like born teacher, yet eager student ~

Thanks for sharing your lovely words ~

Kay L. Davies said...

Awesome indeed, Susan. Kerry certainly knew how to draw a response from you by choosing Whitman, and you took Whitman to a whole 'nother level, one your very own but which real toads can understand.
I love your work, and the response it has drawn from our circle of poets and itinerant versifiers (counting myself in the latter category).

Laurie Kolp said...

Susan- You have gone above and beyond here with some very powerful statements and questionings, my friend. I can relate to so much, but especially the religion. God is God. Religion is not God. That's what I believe.

Peggy said...

My goodness, you really did take this challenge to heart (and soul) and the results are very rich indeed. I doubt I could keep my focus long enough to write such a long piece as "Yawp." It goes many places. Nice work

Ella said...

So many threaded thoughts you have captured and cascaded! It is a powerful message and one that sings I mean yawps! I love how you united all of us~ You gave us something to Yawp about :D Beautifully Done~

hedgewitch said...

A profound response to the challenge, and it's obvious you feel deeply connected with Whitman, Susan. Thanks for giving us so many of his poems to reread, and for yours.

Fireblossom said...

Whitman is one of my favorite poets.

Hannah said...

I love the sense of equality that you portray in your closing lines. This is such a thoughtful much to care deeply about. Great personal challenge Kerry and Susan!!