Friday, May 11, 2012

Final Project: Rapping Whitman

Getting right to it... I took Poem 9 out of the Calamus poems by Walt Whitman, and made it into a rap song. In the poem, the speaker reflects on the hours since his companion has been gone, basically whining in agony about how much he misses him. In shifting the poetry form into song form, I changed the "he" to "she," added lyrics and sentiments not found in the poem (to beef it up into 2 traditional 16-bar verses), and took some creative liberties in transforming Whitman's poetry into a song verse. It ends up as a love song; a love, lost... which is what I got from the poem as well.

I made the instrumental months ago, and entitled it "I Need You." With the addition of the the lyrics/my vocals, I call this song "The Hours."
Here is a link to listen to the song:
I think it would be best to open it up in a new tab, then come back to this tab and follow along with the lyrics. You might need to turn the speakers up since the audio file isn't too loud, but of course, at it is music, laptop speakers suck, and headphones or good computer speakers are gonna be the ideal manner in which to listen. Btw, my "artist" name isn't "GrassHop" anymore, the SoundCloud page is just old...

MY lyrics are on the left, in bold. WHITMAN's original poem is on the right side. I post the original Whitman poetry first, on the right, then follow it with the lyrics I created/stole/modified from the Whitman source material on the left, in bold. I divided the poetry and verses up so you can see clearly exactly how my lyrics came from Whitman's words.
*I wrote some "Production Notes" at the end of the blog post, after the lyrics, if you are interested.*

HOURS continuing long, sore and heavy hearted,
Hours, continuing long, sore, and heavy-hearted,
The space between the meeting of myself and the departed.
Hours of dusk, when I withdraw to a lonesome
and unfrequented spot, seating myself, leaning
my face in my hands;
Hours of dusk, clinging to my lonesome fate,
Face in my hands from circumstance as I sit and wait.
Hours sleepless, deep in the night, when I go forth,
speeding swiftly the country roads, or through
the city streets, or pacing miles and miles,
Hours, sleepless, deep in the night,
Pacing roads and city streets just for one more sight- of you.
stif-fling plaintive cries;
Hours discouraged, distracted- for the one I cannot
content myself without, soon I saw him content
himself without me;
It's you- The one I can't live without, 
Like the desert without rain in this perpetual drought. 
Shouts of sorrow traced the wind when I saw you content
Without me, so now I see the world as twisted and bent,
Hours when I am forgotten, (O weeks and months are
passing, but I believe I am never to forget!)
And now the hours I'm forgotten turn to weeks and months, 
While you remained on the brain, not even leavin once,
Sullen and suffering hours! (I am ashamed- but it
is useless- I am what I am;)
Just like a dunce, sittin in shame, the corner of my room, 
Am I naive to have believed that our flower would bloom?
How can I help but feel lost without direction of you, 
And so I write to map out the road to get to what's true, (I'm tellin you...)

In the hours of the night, I fight it, but (I need you) 
Through the hours in the day, I'm sayin that (I love you)
Every moment you're away... (I need you)
I'm just wishin you would stay, cuz...


Hours of my torment- I wonder if other men ever
have the like, out of the like feelings?
Hours, stuck in this torment and so I wonder,
If others have been sucked by this torrent that brings me under.
Is there even one other like me- distracted- his
friend, his lover, lost to him?
A friend, a lover, that beauty of mine is missing.
Do you feel me? Do you know what it's like to be left wishing?
Is he too as I am now? Does he still rise in the morn-
ing, dejected, thinking who is lost to him? and
at night, awaking, think who is lost?
Do you wake up at night, just to mourn what is lost?
And in the morning only wake up to find her at any cost?
 Does he too harbor his friendship silent and endless?
So I continue to hold onto this friendship, silent and endless, 
Like a dream I need to wake from, if only so I can end this.
harbor his angush and passion?
The anguish and the passion pull the heart from side to side.
I languish and refuse to pass this spot where I reside.
From time to time my pride will give me reason to move on,
Knowing your touch hasn't been felt by my touch in so so long,
Does some stray reminder, or the casual mention of a
name, bring the fit back upon him, taciturn and
But the memories are enemies that breath at every moment,
Attempting to forget as I exhale in my atonement.
Does he see himself reflected in me? In these hours,
does he see the face of his hours reflected?
Breath in and fill my lungs with your image that I lack,
Breathing out... giving life to these hours I can't get back, (it's just a fact that, um-)

[variant from chorus 1:] I just wish you could've stayed, cuz...

Production Notes:

Rapping isn't a passion of mine (though I do like writing poetry). My passion is making sample-based hip-hop instrumentals. If anyone reading is interested in how I created the instrumental, and don't know much about sample-based music in general, I made this short 30-second audio clip where I play back all the individual samples you hear in the song, in their raw form, before I put them all together, added effects, and sequenced them to make the instrumental I rapped over. THIS is what I LOVE to do :)

Some of my favorite rappers do more than just rhyme the last words of every line, so I tried to throw a few internal rhymes and stuff in my verses. My favorite genre is hip-hop, but I'm pretty damn picky with the hip-hop I do listen to. That being said, I tried to not shame my favorite music genre with the lyrics that I wrote, and I'm pretty happy with how they came out.

I recorded this at my friend's home studio. Some of the volume levels on the vocals fluctuate... Sorry, we're both amateurs.

Here is the instrumental, with no vocals, "I Need You", because seriously, I loved this instrumental, and we didn't mix the vocals in too well, so the music kinda got muddled in the vocal version:

And there it is.

 My vinyl, where I get my samples from. Because I'm old school like that.

Here's Your Feedback, Hanley

I liked the class a lot. I thought the blogs really made it easy for everyone to have an immediate outlet for their take on the poetry and subjects brought up in class. It sucked that the amount of blog posts people actually did kinda dwindled as the semester went on, since it woulda been nice to be able to read more people's blog posts. Maybe there's a way to fix that, I don't know.

I would have liked it if you assigned more essays though. The 5-page kind.

I hear the Scorpions are playing at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View on June 9th. Are you going to be there Hanley??
I most definitely won't be there.

FACT: Richard Cheese version > Scorpions version.

Thanks for everything, Hanley. Pretty cool class.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Coen Brothers

FYI: My knowledge of the works by the Coen Brothers isn't too extensive. I've seen Raising Arizona, The second 1/2 of The Big Lebowski years ago, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers (not good), and No Country For Old Men (crazy good).

I feel bad that I have not seen Fargo, but worse that I haven't seen The Big Lebowski in its entirety, so I'll find a way to watch it tomorrow... Oh, it's 2am, so I mean... later today.

1) How does Whitman bring both high and low culture into his work? And the Coens? What are the implications of such a mixture? What about the image of “overeducated and underemployed slackers” (sound familiar?)?

In my freshman year of high school, my English teacher was educating us on what "allusions" were, so she had us watch an episode of The Simpsons during class and asked us to write down all the allusions and references to outside sources that we could identify... Pretty awesome assignment, cuz it's my favorite show. The Simpsons always had elements of "high" and "low" culture, and sometimes after rewatching old episodes, I'd find myself laughing at different things that I hadn't laughed at before, not laughing at things I had previously found funny, and then also still laughing at other parts that transcended any humor boundaries. Both Whitman's and the Coen Bros. use of language can be said to be part of the "low" culture (as seen in the clip you provided). Whitman operated in a medium that, in a way, was always part of "high" culture (literature, poetry). The Coen Brothers can bring philosophical elements into their dialogue, and also draw inspiration for their stories/characters from "high" culture sources, like Homer's The Odyssey for O Brother, Where Art Thou? or the novel No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (I was assigned a Cormac McCarthy book in high school, so it must be "high" culture I guess). At the same time, the Coens show off a bit of "low" culture through a lot of their humorous techniques, whether it be physical comedy, grotesque and dark comedy, or a shitload of cussing. They also like writing in some characters that are crazy STUPID for comic relief. George Clooney in O Brother? STOOPID. There really weren't any smart characters in that movie, actually. I guess Clooney was the smart one of the bunch. The hearts and souls were on the right track though. As for the implications? An example can be found in the movie O Brother, where the politician dude wants to gain favor with the public to win re-election, but has difficulty connecting with the common people. Near the end of the film, he grants the Soggy Bottom Boys pardons for their troubles with the law for performing their song in support of the politician dude. The mixture of high/low culture attracts a wider audience with the purpose of being inclusive to all kinds of people. Even in saying that though, it might seem as if a person can only enjoy either high OR low culture, and not both... In looking at the Coen Brothers and Walt Whitman, who are writers, we see how the high/low culture can come from one source, and audiences to their work can simultaneously enjoy both aspects of the work, too.

2) In what ways do the Coen brothers live up to Whitman’s image of the American poet? Do any films in particular come to mind? In what ways do the Coens’ portrayal of America and Americans relate to Whitman’s? 

Whitman in his Preface: "A great poem is for ages and ages in common and for all degrees and complexions and all departments and sects and for a woman as much as a man and a man as much as a woman."

This makes me think of how the Coen Brothers told the story of O Brother, Where Art Thou? in which the 3 main characters mingle with different types, different colors, different classes through their journey in America. Just from what films I have seen, I can't say I have seen much representation of an upper-class (I see more middle and lower-class people in their films) and I don't see a whole lot of women in large roles. Other aspects of Whitman's Preface ask that the poet "absorbs" their nation just as the nation absorbs the poet, involving every aspect of said nation. The Coen Brothers do seek to portray American in an honest way, I feel. They follow the interactions of people from different backgrounds. They try to show an honesty in their dialogue, and their scenes that have no spoken words as well. They try to show American in different time periods, in different locations, just for the sake of showing the world what that particular slice of America might feel like at that moment.

3) Just as Whitman catalogs all walks of life in “Song of Myself” and “Song for Occupations”, the Coen Brothers seem to create remarkably diverse characters in each of their movies. How might any given character of a Coen Bros. movie fit into the Whitmanian ideal? Would Whitman be able toeasily relate to/connect with other Coen characters besides The Dude? Why are these characters so relatable to Whitman?

Just like you guys say in the question, Whitman catalogs all walks of life in those two poems, and the Coen Brothers have made some of those in the Whitman catalog into major and minor characters in their films. When you guys say "Whitmanian Ideal" I don't know how one character would fit into a Whitmanian Ideal. i think that the conglomerate of all the characters the Coens have presented is itself partly representing the Whitmanian Ideal, if that makes sense. The Whitman Ideal involves an ideology that strives to be inclusive, strives to be democratic, and strives to have permanence. Whitman loves the idea of him being able to "connect" with all kinds of people, and I think he's have no qualms with spending time with any of the characters in the films (except Chigurgh... that foo would kill him). The Coens like to "get around" when it comes to fleshing out characters from all across America in the same way Whitman tried to do with his poetry.

They try to keep their portrayals away from being too flashy or too unrealistic (except for comic relief) and this puts their work on a pedestal isn't any higher than their audience. They want to tell you a story, but they want you to feel that they, and their characters, are all living in the same real world as you, giving the films a sense of equality, rather than escapism.

"The messages of great poets to each man and woman are, Come to us on equal terms, Only then can you understand us, We are no better than you..." -Whitman

Actually, not all of the Coen characters are mean to show common America. Some characters are just... fucking insane.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Hey, me too.
Since I'm in the Levine group though, I'm only doing the easy parts, since I'll be doing the hard parts tomorrow during the presentation.

I could have picked a million other songs, but this was what I listened to before work, today.
 P.O.S. - Audition Mantra

Graf that reads "It's a hole!"...

This is my favorite Levine poem I've read. It's called "The Lost Angel." There is a reference to empty fists as "two shaking hammers" near the end, which I don't quite understand, but it remains my favorite:
I figured if Hanley can say Lilacs is his favorite poem, without "getting" it, then so can I.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Muriel Rukeyser In Da House

 "Life Goes On" -2Pac

How should we represent the dead?...
        I personally feel that there is a very different relationship between poet and reader when comparing Book of the Dead and When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. While Whitman LoOoOoOved being all inclusive in poems like Song of Myself and Song of Occupations, I feel like Lilacs is more of a personal presentation. Whitman does end up gaining companions in Lilacs in the form of some creepy death-representing dudes, but I feel Lilacs was mostly Walt looking at himself by looking at the world, trying to find answers for himself, by himself. A lot of people go through some sort of self-reflection when dealing with death, so Lilacs represents that inner-struggle well. Book of the Dead feels more didactic, seeking to teach, or perhaps, just REMIND people of the construction of our nation. In the first 5 stanzas, Rukeyser is basically saying to me "Yo! Don't forget how we came to be here in this nation. Don't forget the people that died in the construction of this nation. Don't forget who used to live on the land you own. Don't forget."
Rukeyser says it herself:  

What three things can never be done?
Forget. Keep silent. Stand alone.

        Rukeyser refuses to forget or keep silent. Book of the Dead is proof. She remembers. She speaks on what happened. And she stands with those who have died, straight up representing for the Dead.

        In this way, I feel like Book of the Dead reminds me more of Song of Occupations. In that poem, Whitman was more like "Hey, sup guys. Whitman in da house. Don't forget about all these people that make the country run. Without work, this country would not work. Respect that. Don't forget. I won't stay silent about it. And I stand with the workers."
Rukeyser's poem feels like it was written by someone with anger in their heart over America's forgetful nature, but through her pen, she wrote stoic poetics that are firm, yet filled with respect for her people, which in this poem, are The Dead.
      The word "You" in Lilacs is used to describe the bird, the star, death, and generally, things that are NOT human. In Book of the Dead, using the word "You," Rukeyser seems to point a finger at the writers of history much of the time, or simply just those people who are inclined to forget history. She is putting a spotlight on things that people may not notice (like Whitman in Song of Occupations). She may even feel that the writers of history hide the whole truth in order to make sure people DON'T notice the real truth of the lives this country was built on. So, Rukeyser says "Fuck that shit. Here, Imma bust the facts for yall." And she does.

        In Lilacs, I definitely feel the poet has come to a feeling of resolution from tragedy. For Whitman, there is a beauty he finds in nature, and finding death to be natural, he eventually finds the beauty in death. For Rukeyser, she finds ugliness in the failure to recognize the sacrifices people have made. During the last section of the poem, she describes the miners from the Hawk's Nest Incident, and places them within the greater history of our nation, letting us know that just as the injustices and tragedies in our nation's early years won't be forgotten, neither will the lives and injustices of those workers in those mines. If a resolution can be found in Book of the Dead, it is in the fact that the poet, using her best vehicle for delivering her message (poetry), delivered her message, did not forget, and did not stay silent.

Here is Muriel Rukeyser's "Book of the Dead" in song form... if it were done in a not-so stoic manner.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

If Philip Levine Was A Rapper...

...maybe he'd sound like this?
Maybe not.

But I just felt like posting these songs cuz A) I'm in the Philip Levine group, and his perspectives stay on my mind at the moment, so I notice them when they appear in some of the music I listen to, B) I'm about to leave for this 5am work shift, so I feel in the mood for these songs right now, cuz they let me know I don't have it too bad, really...
and C) Cuz it's my blog ;)

Atmosphere - Guarantees

Slug (from Atmosphere) - Not Another Day (Live)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poetics of Collective Loss

        When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloomed is a poem recalling loss, death, and life. Whitman aims to make peace with the loss of the 'man he loved' leaving a sprig from the lilac bush on the coffin of this man which passes through the nation, casting the shadow of loss across all the people. I did not have Lilacs read for class last Thursday, since I got used to checking the motherblog for everything and threw the syllabus to the side. Then again, the motherblog should not be granted the honor of the prestigious title MOTHERblog if it doesn't have everything we need to know on it, right? Cmon son. No context. Like a G. Anyway, I was confused on Thursday, but I still took notes. Professor Hanley mentioned to pay close attention to the lilac sprig/bush, the 'star,' and the bird that sings the 'carol' of death. I haven't gone into all the connections these symbols have, but my basic understanding of his use of these symbols in the shallowest sense is that the lilac presents a symbol of life and offering of beauty to the dead. The 'star' which sometimes seems to represent the sun, and sometimes the moon (?), represents the coming and going of days, seasons, and life. The bird's song gives beauty to the idea of death as the start of a new beginning, which it seems the poem's speaker embraces by the end of the poem. I really enjoyed the poem. Hanley, you weren't lying. It's good stuff!

        The first 9/11 poem that struck me as similar to Lilacs was a part of Lucille Clifton's "September Songs, A Poem In Seven Days," specifically her poem for "Sunday."

and i am consumed with love
for all of it

the everydayness of bravery
of hate of fear of tragedy

of death and birth and hope
true as this river

and especially with love
bailey fredrica clifton goin

for you

        I might be stretching, but Whitman's poem has a sense that it takes the loss of life in the same way we take a day in, with the light waking us up in the morning before having the earth be covered in darkness by nightfall, only to be lightened up again in the morning. At the end of Lilacs the poem's speaker is chillin with his death companions and the bird at "dusk and dim" waiting for the new day to begin. This "Sunday" poem also looks towards the future, specifically the poet's young relative (daughter?) Bailey Fredrica Clifton and looking not only at death, but "death birth and hope."

        Another poem I wanted to look at was "Hum" by Ann Lauterbach. She repeats many of her phrases, emphasizing a certain type of connection between everything it seems, and finding beauty in everything. She also brings up the ideas of days ("tomorrow," "yesterday," and "these days") in the same way Whitman does when he speaks on the star in the west which I view as the sun about to set to begin the night, and then a new day. Lauterbach sees a new beginning by pointing out that the "words" retired to their "books," that the "stones" were looses from their "settings," and that the "ashes" of loss remained. I feel as if this looks to a world that has changed more than it has lost, and that a new beginning can be made as the raw materials are still in our posession, they are just in different places/forms.
Whitman also looks to beauty in nature in his poem, where Lauterbach mentions beauty many times in her poem as if to remind everyone of the beauty in the world before being drowned in the idea of loss. Whitman also tries to find beauty in death as an end to suffering.

        Here's a bonus that you don't have to read since it is a bit off tangent from the assignment: When Professor Hanley mentioned the Lilac, Star, and Bird, I couldn't help but think of this song covered by Richie Havens called "High Flying Bird." The song is about loss as well, and features lyrics involving a high-flying bird, the lucky Sun that travels across the sky and gets to "meet God everyday," as well as the speaker of the song, who is stuck on the ground, "rooted like a tree." Tree, Sun, and Bird. I just thought the symbols were similar, and they were all used to give a new vision to loss, as Richie Havens sings about how the woman he lost now "flies" as a result of her death, which she could never do in life. The symbols are used differently from the way they are used in Whitman's poem, but I thought it was weird how similar the symbols were anyway. It's one of my favorite songs. Beautiful stuff.