Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurry! Poetry!

Yesterday as I walking across campus after teaching a quite excellent class on Little House on the Prairie to my quite excellent students who had done quite excellent close reading of the text, a colleague from the English department accosted me. Breathless, he asked, "Are you free right now? Or are you heading off to a meeting?" When I told him I was free, at least for the next half hour before I had a gallery art talk to attend at noon, he said, "Go to the Hub! Go right now!  There's going to be poetry!"

That was all I had to hear.  I dashed off to the Hub (the cafeteria in the student union building), ready for some flash poetry read by poetry professor Joe Heithaus to cello accompaniment by music professor Eric Edberg. As the students swarmed about with their laden trays, Joe stood at the top of a stairway and sang out these lines from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself":

This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just same as the righteous, I make appointments
    with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp'd slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.
This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of hair,
This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.
Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica on the
    side of a rock has.
Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering
    through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?
This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

Yes, poetry astonishes, especially poetry read with cello responses in a crowded student cafeteria in the middle of a busy day.

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