Containing Multitudes with Spahr and Whitman

Juliana Spahr and Whitman certainly have a sense of interconnectedness in humanity present in their poetry in common. Both poets seem to use that interconnectedness to cope (or mourn?) with an America that is going through changes- and not necessarily changes for the better. While considering why each of these poets use an inevitable and unbreakable connection between human beings in their poetry, I have trouble getting down the the bottom of – why. What does it do for their poetry and what kind of affect does this interconnectedness have on the reader?

I, for one, can’t decide if I feel more lonely or less lonely when I consider myself as being apart of every single person in the world, linked inevitably with an “inability to control what goes on in the world in my name”. When considering this “connection” that both Whitman and Spahr so often speak of, should I feel comforted or…insignificant?

Perhaps it depends on the poetry. In Whitman’s poetry I think the interconnectedness has positive connotations. Whitman seems to feel at one with humanity, he feels at one with the rest of America. Besides political and cultural messages of kinship and equality, Whitman captures the unity of human beings not only with each other, but with everything found in nature, in the universe. Spahr’s version of interconnectedness doesn’t give off the same pleasant sense of hope that I found in Leaves of Grass. In “This Connection of Everything with Lungs”, it seems that Spahr feels like she is trapped in this connection with everything else so sinister and that she feels hopeless because there is no way out of it, whereas Whitman basks in it. Spahr uses lists of cities and lists of people killed and pays particularly close attention to numbers, as if we are apart of this number and cannot escape this number, nor do anything about any of this tragedy. Both poets seem to use the theme of interconnectedness in response to a changing of the times but use the connection in very different and unique-to-the-poet ways.

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