Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
He is indeed large, immense in his embrace of the world, others—his inclusion of all voices and people inside the lines of his open and spirited verse. This lusty, vibrant, exuberant flaneur and urban enthusiast makes connections with all whom he meets. Even his connections through time make his words reach us from his past to our present—I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Each year we read portions of “Song of Myself” in class. Then I send the kids out to stalk a la Whitman. They write their observations down in notebooks.
Last week we walked into a bakery, a coffee shop, a university cafeteria, spent time in classrooms and library, hallways and offices, gym and playground, observing, witnessing, watching. I was amazed at the forthrightness of my students. One sat in the same booth as a young man studying. Another sat across from a young girl in a cafe working at her computer. The kids were brave, not shy at all at gathering the information around them, sometimes as carried away as Whitman himself as he sat on the omnibus so engrossed in his surroundings that he forgot to return to work.
Before we left on our stalking journey, a few of the kids asked me if they could use their phones to record their information. I said no (it is school policy), but one student hadn’t heard me. While “stalking” it looked just like he was texting. So much more discreet than a huge bunch of students with journals. (I think I’ll let them use their iphones next year.)
Some of the stalkees got involved with the students, asking them what they were doing, joking with them to make sure that the words they spoke were clear enough for them. Leaving the cafeteria, we walked through an Einstein’s bagel shoppe where I inadvertently exited through an emergency exit, which set off an alarm. I got lots of kudos for that.
The observations they made were collected and randomly interspersed with Whitman’s poem. We read this together in class today. When we first read excerpts from the original “Song of Myself”, the students found it too long. It was difficult for them to sustain their interest. While reading the eight pages of their observations today, they were totally absorbed and engaged, laughing, responding to theirs and their peers’ observations—even though Whitman’s words were interwoven throughout. Somehow, personally involved in Whitman’s way of looking at the world, they were swept up into his dynamism and energy, and maybe even a bit of his vision.
Just a small excerpt from this year’s Song of Ourselves 2010-2011 (The italics are Whitman’s words…)
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I will assume you shall assume,
for every atom belonging to me as well belongs to you.
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
The pockmarked man eats his croissant while his glasses slowly slip down the bridge of his nose. (SSF)
Four ancient, wrinkle-covered, shirtless men with white wispy chest hair and round bellies tan themselves and watch passers-by (mainly jogging women). (LC)
Man stares at me while my face is pressed against the glass window of a restaurant; he shakes his head in disapproval and disappointment, as a smirk grows upon my face, lifting up my cheeks. (WC)
A man is opening a garbage bag for at least 2 minutes. (JTW)
A woman standing solo against a painted wall frowns with her arms crossed. (RC)
A security guard, in her maroon vest, is looking bored and half asleep like LT in the middle of humanities. (BR)
A woman with dreadlocks slides the slender fingers of her left hand (no rings) down the neck of her cello. (LO)
A brown-haired boy with a freckle about his lip, is chewing on a cool ranch Dorito chip. (CPG)
I watch two kids exchange comments while changing shirts. Synchronized shirt changing. One, with brown hair, the other with black. They both are laughing. (WB)
Woman with blonde highlights enjoys her noodles, chewing like she has a secret. (GB)
A boy sits writing. He looks up and around and starts writing again. He looks back at the boy in the grey sweatshirt that is staring at him and starts to look back and forth between the boy staring at him and the man he is staring at. He finally gets up and leaves when a short boy in a purple shirt stares at him and calls for him to stay where he was. (EL)
We visit a Humanities classroom; they are staring at us. Teacher is talking, Harkness? Teacher Laughs. Short, crazy, Canadian jumps on table and starts dancing. He runs out and takes my paper. They are all now under the tables. They are waving at the windows. They run out and chase us. (KL)
A middle-aged lady with a gray mullet pushes emergency exit. She steps back and runs away with 20 teenagers tagging behind her as the alarm blares through the bagel shoppe. (LL)
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,…
Girl with curly hair drinks tea. (CB)
A tall teenage boy with sunglasses, a button down shirt, and shorts walks with his chest up, a bounce in his step, and with his hands on two women’s shoulders on both sides of him. (LC)
A tall teenage boy with sunglasses, a button-down shirt, and shorts walks with his chest up, a bounce in his step, and with his hands on two women’s shoulders on both sides of him. (LC)
An overweight college student munches on chips while rapidly writing homework. Her brow is furrowed and she is working hard.She hasn’t washed her hair in at least 3 days and her clothes have food stains and hot chocolate on them. (PB)
A goggled boy with pasta sticking out of his mouth like a tongue wears a dirty shirt. (EB)
Girl, who still needs braces, displays double-jointed finger. (CK)
Two men sit across from each other in the dark, cramped cafe, engrossed in a curious discussion about literature and great philosophers. One is dark, with thick eyebrows and ruffled hair of the same chestnut color and the other is quite fair. They are both dressed casually. Their voices are drowned as the drill of the coffee grinder throngs through the bakery, and a rich, robust scent floods the air. (JM)
Rows upon rows of children in school, learn to look like they are working. (JM)
Trench-coated man grinding his jaw down the street, temporarily makes eye contact with me while I drill my eyes into his. I notice his hair is falling out like the seed from a dandelion in a light wind. (WC)
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