Tuesday, March 6, 2012



Pleased to have found this recording of me reading from
Walt Whitman's Poem of Joy, for New York State Sea
Grant last summer for their 40th anniversary. Whitman
waxes tenderly about the bays, lagoons, creeks he grew
up on, and the baymen and fisherfolk who worked the
shore and the sea.

O to have been brought up on bays, lagoons, creeks
         or along the coast!

O to continue and be employ'd there all my life!
O the briny and damp smell—the shore—the salt
         weeds exposed at low water,
The work of fishermen—the work of the eel-fisher
         and clam-fisher.


The occupations are a wonder to hear retold in Whitman's expansive voice

O it is I!
I come with my clam-rake and spade! I come with
         my eel-spear...
In winter I take my eel-basket and eel-spear and
         travel out on foot on the ice—I have a small
         axe to cut holes in the ice...
Or, another time, mackerel-taking, Voracious, mad 
for the hook, near the surface, they
         seem to fill the water for miles;

And here's Whitman walking the walk and talking the sweet
talk of the region's lobstermen as he knew them.

         to lift the lobster-pots, where they are sunk
         with heavy stones, (I know the buoys;)

O the sweetness of the Fifth-month morning upon
         the water, as I row, just before sunrise, toward
         the buoys;
I pull the wicker pots up slantingly—the dark green
         lobsters are desperate with their claws, as I
         take them out—I insert wooden pegs in the
         joints of their pincers,
I go to all the places, one after another, and then row
         back to the shore,
There, in a huge kettle of boiling water, the lobsters
         shall be boil'd till their color becomes scarlet.

As expansive as America's Good Gray Poet can be,
sometimes to hear Whitman is to see the world as it
really is. Even in the doldrums of our respective winters,
we are suddenly with Whitman and alive in the fifth
month manner he understood and related in his poems --
Whitman with us and us with him. Cutting through ice,
traipsing across salt marsh and mud, at home with
clamrake, spade, eel-spear and lobster pot.

Walt says 'wicker basket.' But walking with him this time
of year is akin to 'Pulling the winter pots up slantingly,' with
the brood of tough boys and mettlesome young men he
knew and loved so well.

1 comment:

  1. I have Whitman's work in heavy rotation in my mind at the present moment. I've become very in tune with his phrasing and his seemingly innate appreciation of local surroundings. It's beautiful. Walt is the man!

    Cool video too. If I'm not mistaken, I think I can espy the old setting of Bradstock in the background.