Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Call to Liberty

image borrowed from fineartmerica,com

Call to Liberty

“I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops
of the world.”--Walt Whitman.

In the fall of 1956, when
I started junior high school,          the English teachers began
                                to tackle poetry in earnest.
                       It was abrupt adieu to limericks
                and sweet nursery rhymes,
        & a swift boy howdy to some
lame epic-length sing-song poem
        called HIAWATHA by a dead dude 
                 named Hank Waddy Longfellow, & most
                        of us were chanting, You’re a poet,
                                  but don’t know it,
                                  even though your feet show it; 
                                  they’re Longfellows;
followed furiously by a sicky-sweet poem
about some royal Greek fags        called OZYMANDIAS
                                  by Johnny Keats, then I think
                           there was a wrestling match with
               some archaic clumsy clunker called 
MY BRIGANTINE by J. Fenimore Cooper,
with Willy Wordsworth next up
               sharing some silly clap-trap verse called
                            I WANDERED LONELY LIKE A CLOUD--

and wouldn’t you know it,
these stomach-churning
overly Victorian romantic & saccharine-sentimental verses
           continued right into high school English,
                     as we were introduced to the Belle of Amherst
                                herself, Miss Emily D, whom Brandon Braggis said
                                          wrote sad depressed poems because she
                                probably was a dyke, & of course all those
                     love sonnets by Shakespeare, & those fey clever lines
                from Oscar Wilde, none of which I can remember,
only recalling that his real name was 
Oscar Fingal O’Flaherte Willis Wilde,
& that he was a stylish infamous queer
at a dangerous time when gay men
were often beaten to death or castrated;

but then in my sophomore year            I was struck with a literary bolt
                        of lightning called Walt Whitman,
& since I already was writing prose                   in creative writing classes,
             I was overjoyed to find out that the stoic rules
             dictating what poetry was, or even could be,
             had been trampled--as I read poems that had
words & phrases that ran wild & free 
like high desert mustangs,
                            that leaped out of the sea nets
like quartets of dolphins                   with the sun glistening on
                            their shining heads;         words that took flight,
               vibrating out of condor & eagle wings.
The first Whitman poem I encountered was a verse of war:

Beat! beat! drum!--blow! bugle! blow!
through windows--through doors,
bursting like a relentless force;
so rattle quicker heavier drums--in bugles wilder blow.

Old Walt was like a huge orange-keeled Ice Breaker,
cracking through my adolescent resistant permafrost,
suddenly cutting the hemp fetters on my own poetics,
                           putting me in mind of war drums
                           & military bugle calls,       as I imagined
                    the look that Davy Crockett gave to Jim Bowie
             when they heard Santa Ana playing the Deguello,
realizing that the fresh troops storming
the crumbling adobe walls of the Alamo
had “no quarter” on their lips;             or those stirring buglers
             leading Cavalry charges during the Indian campaigns
                      way out West--or those German bugle calls heard
                                 over the muddy trench tops, ricocheting
off barbed wire in No-Man’s Land;      or those WWII Japanese
                      bugle calls that signaled a Banzai attack,
                                                             or those eerie haunting
midnight Chinese Bugle calls during the Korean War,
                      often broadcast on loud speakers, & I welcomed all
of those Whitman cronies, those bellicose blood-soaked muses,
for Uncle Walt was truly my Liberator, whelping my undiscovered
poetic yearnings, the Captain of my future wayward voyages deep
into the Sea of Freedom---oh thank-you my Captain, my Admiral,
                                                                my Monarch, my Lord, 
                         for I continue to honor thee,
                         poetically & spiritually. 

Glenn Buttkus

Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics

Would you like to hear me read this poem to you?


brudberg said...

Ah Glenn, I'm so glad you found joy in the prompt.. there are some parallels here.. we both thought poetry was something we didn't have to care about (and you seem to have been way more exposed than I ever was).. glad you found your hero and started to love poetry at young age.. I have lost so many years to anti-poetry posing.. Love your description of adolescent attitudes...

Claudia said...

oh i can imagine what freedom it brought when discovering that there's something like freestyle in poetry - every once and a while i enjoy doing a form piece but for me the "real" poetry is what is flexible and formable individually by the poet

Hayes Spencer said...

I am grinning hugely - big Seymour Glass of a grin. I had a feeling Walt would be an inspiration. He did indeed set all of us free and you bring it through time to now when we are still free. And what is so amazing is how we are free to dip our thumb in a golden bowl of inspiration and mark the forehead of poetry with our own print - to make it ours and to freely give it to all. Well done! I know the spirit of Walt is doing some jazzy bugling right now.

Marina Sofia said...

Well, that was some summary of the poetry commonly studied in school - I had to laugh (as a former English teacher)!
Why does it not surprise me that Whitman was your inspiration?... I think there's a poet there for each of us, but some of us never find him/her because we give up before we get there. I love the way you incorporate some of his words and images in your 'homage' to him. Very cleverly done!

Mary said...

I do think Walt Whitman would be honored by your words, Glenn. I wonder if he realized how many budding poets he inspired. I enjoyed all of the details you included, including details of uninspiring poets. Why we have to study them first in high school, I wonder!

Marilyn B said...

I think your youthful view of poetry is very common, but at some point poetry touches everyone. Your poem touched me, truly.

Wolfsrosebud said...

poetry grows... each of us gleaning from experience and our favorite authors... sprinkle a little personal in it all... which you seem to have

Peggy said...

How lucky you were to be introduced to poetry in jr. high school. My main memory of English in those grades is the teacher trying to get us all to sit in our seats for the whole hour. No wonder I never wanted to be an English teacher. I like the way you grew your poem as poetry grew with you.

C.C. said...

I had to read (and memorize) Ozymandias in school and I actually remember enjoying it, if you can imagine that!! The way you've expressed what Walt and his poetry did for you makes me wish I'd had a similar encounter with poetry in my adolescent years....what a joyous and passionate exodus from the angst and rigidity that binds one in those years :-) Lovely write today, Glenn :-)

Gabriella said...

My favorite part in this poem is your first encounter with Walt Whitman. I can see how he influenced your writings. I had a class on Whitman at college and he was something very different after the English poets I had studied earlier - like an everlasting draft of fresh wind.

Kate Mia said...

Ah.. God.. i miss all those poets.. and truly the only poet.. and line of poem.. i ever pay attention to in decades of life.. as poetry is gibberish.. to me.. more or less.. then..

is a few short words about 'leaves of gras's.. that tell the story of life.. whole.. from brow to sand.. to truly loving life as flesh and blood..now..:)

Yeah.. Walt is literally the one and only poet i know.. then at least.. No.. tHere are no high brow poets wheRre i'm from..:)

i know nothing about poetry.. i think Socrates says something in reason.. like that too.. other than heArt.. and i'll keep it that way.. to come..for now...:)

kaykuala said...

Most exhaustive recollections Glenn! You have been privileged for having gone through the rudiments of poetry on a somewhat organized basis long ago. That tells a lot in what you've put into your writings. It is no small wonder that you present gems for us all the time. Thanks for sharing!


Anonymous said...

Another great piece, Glenn. And I can't read your opening quote without seeing and hearing Robin Williams as John Keating, telling his students to sound a mighty "Yawp".

Myrna R. said...

You did a great job of paying tribute, emulating Whitman, and revealing a piece of yourself. I so much enjoyed reading this. I like your resistance, then your love of poetry and freedom. I'm with you on that and Whitman is one of my favorites too.

Anthony Desmond said...

Typical reaction from youth on poetry... oh was I called gay for liking/writing poetry... oy... in most--not all--cases maturity kicks in and they learn that it really ain't that fuckin bad... And you're the second person this week to mention Walt; I haven't read him before, I admit... so I must do my research.