What is so Amazing

We looked at the following poem in my process class a few weeks ago, and re-reading it I couldn’t help but see a lot of Whitman in it.

What Is So Amazing

is not so much what is beneath
the house—       matter and dirt—
nor what is outside it—      surges of
light—      space that has no end—
but how it all seems        ever to
be renewed by something
unerasable—                   an energy
that drapes itself over everything
like       translucent film        so that
what was shabby            what was
perishable yesterday           today takes in
oxygen             makes an exchange
with the world          in that deep place
where             for lack of more clarity
I’ll say matter becomes consciousness.
Those other questions             creation
death         free will           etc—
let’s continue to defer           let them
simply be         unresolvable.          What’s
so amazing is         this           apparently
unstoppable commerce—          that the
surfaces of all objects—             animate
inanimate—          and of all minds quaver
continuously like water—         reshaping
themselves into the same body—       the
world—         a candescent           breathing
whose skin is like a living             because.

This poem is by Gail Wronsky.
I think what we talked about last class relating to Bruchac’s take on Whitman’s bond with native Americans, is also present in this poem. Bruchac identifies Whitman’s “celebration of the Earth and natural things,” a link with eastern thought, and qualities of wonder and appreciation towards nature. All of these elements seem to be the driving forces of this poem. The imagery throughout and especially the “continuous like water” line are very eastern. The poet seems to have accessed this same vein that Bruchac claims to be the primary connection between Whitman and Native American poets. I would also definitely argue for Neruda and Lorca also being of this poetic vein, along with many of my favorite contemporary poets.

Throughout this course I have been drawn towards reading contemporary poetic reactions to Whitman as lamenting the loss of hope and optimism, as this is largely my personal relation to Whitman. This seems especially difficult after modernism, and industrialization, as we see Ginsberg use Whitman in this way also. Still this poem seems to channel Whitman in a still beautiful way, making his message seem just as alive today. She also finds this optimism in a very Whitmanian fashion.

I’m not sure I would map out this poem as having a definite crisis and recovery. It is about being comfortable with and even embracing uncertainty, and still not being able to resist being in complete wonder over the world, nature, and yourself.

It is very Romantic (reminds me of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn), and also very Whitmanian.

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2 Responses to What is so Amazing

  1. Charles Carmody says:

    One of the most valuable things I think I will take away from this class is an introduction to so many poets I have never read before, and so many poets and poems that I love. I have never heard of Gail Wronsky, but I will definitely be looking up more of her work after reading this poem. I find Ed’s post invaluable for a number of reasons.

    The first being that we have not read too many woman poets in the class thus far. This is a perfect setup for tomorrow, as our topic is “A Woman Waits for Me.” We have constantly discussed the multitudes of Whitman, and I think these ‘multitudes also pertains to gender. While Whitman may have had a very masculine voice at times, I also think he also spoke with a distinctly feminine voice at others. Some might call this voice a voice of ‘gaiety,’ and while Whitman was homoerotic, I want to argue that he also was purposefully speaking from a feminine perspective throughout his works in a heterosexual way. I think most readers of Whitman automatically picture the beard gentleman whenever they read his work, but we have to extend our imagination as Whitman takes on a number of different personalities that seem to be externalized from himself.

    For instance, in the eleventh section of “Song of Myself” Whitman writes:

    Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
    Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
    Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.

    She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
    She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.

    Which of the young men does she like the best?
    Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.

    Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,
    You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.

    Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
    The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.

    While these verses are written mostly in third person, I still feel as if a woman is addressing me in these lines. She sees the men bathing and is drawn to them breaking female conventions of chastity and purity.

    But anyways, back to Ed’s post. Wronsky really does seem to embody a whitmanesque feel in this poem. The last line is by far my favorite: “the world – a candescent breathing whose skin is like a living because.” She gives us no answers in the poem, and stresses that we must let our question be “unresolvable.” Wronsky seems to be looking at crisis, our existential crises of life and death, and she is simply saying defer these questions and crises. We should just simply be and be amazed at the energies and life that is all around us. This message does not seem to lament a loss of beauty with industrialization, or modernism, or post-modernism, but rather embraces the cyclical (an eastern idea) nature of life.

  2. AVZ says:

    There is a very powerful sense of Whitmanian “merge” here as all minds become one body, as touching matter (I’m reminded of Oppen as well) leads to a kind of attention of consciousness of what is.

    I also love the sense of openness and ambiguity of that last word–because.

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