Like many other students, I imagine, this is my first foray into Whitman with any real depth. Though I was uneasy when I first picked up Song of Myself, I can’t help but be delighted with what I’ve learned so far. As a student of literature as well as a writer, I can’t help but admire him for all his ambition. The notion that one might craft a new American bible in a single body of poetry, instilling hope and breathing new life into an entire people, isn’t exactly a modest undertaking.

Being reintroduced to Whitman in this course at this stage in my academic career has already been very rewarding. Reading through Leaves of Grass a few sections at a time has allowed me to realize the power of detail, what a simple snapshot can lend to a poem, and how cataloging can (and cannot) be used to effectively draw the reader in.

Also, the simple spirit behind Whitman’s poetry is enough to inspire. The idea that “(I am large, I contain multitudes)” is an understatement not only for Whitman, but for all of us as we consider the ways in which we negotiate our own identities as fathers, brothers, and lovers – as well as the obvious female counterparts to those. To put it more simply, I find it refreshing how wholeheartedly Whitman embraces the fact that he cannot be contained as simply as some may like and that he does, in fact, contain multitudes, all of which deserve to find their own expression through pen and paper.

All that being said, I’ve chosen to submit a poem reminiscent of Whitman that I’ve recently written for another class. After reading half of Leaves of Grass, I couldn’t help but yearn to return to nature (specifically, the sort in and around Boone, NC) and reconnect with it. Anticipating the fall and feeling nostalgia for my visit last October, I wrote this poem. I’d like to think that old Walt would approve.

The asphalt wraps itself round the mountain,
a black river ascending into the mist.

Wet, moss-covered stone, flushed orange and yellow oaks,
shivering, stoic firs, and smoldering red maples cling
to the bosom of the Blue ridge as fall fades to winter.

Emily said that hope was the thing with feathers,
warbling sweetly in someone’s soul, but I disagree.

As a light rain glazes the skin of my outstretched arm
I can feel the chill of the Appalachian air electrifying
the hair on my neck, chilling my bones.

Soaring into another cloud, my beloved asleep on my shoulder,
I breathe in the cold air deeper, and then deeper still.

Ascending higher and delving deeper into the mountains I’m reminded
what it is that propels me ever onward, ever upward –
the Appalachian air instills something in me…something light.

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One Response to Appalachia

  1. Anton Vander Zee says:

    Hey James – I just read your post after I composed my own, which also touches on contemporary poetry. I enjoyed your poem–it captures the innocence, the pure pleasure, of nature and out ability to enter that space, if only for a moment. I would consider cutting the last line–for some reason, it seems extra, perhaps unnecessary.

    A poet that we’ll be reading later in the course, Juliana Spahr, wrote a long, stunning poem called “Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache.” You might want to check it out–it’s absolutely stunning, and nature-minded homage to her own home. ( Whitman is very much alive in poems like these.

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