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It's old slouch by now that Walt
Whitman had the skinny or true gen about the coming millennium before anyone else in the
writing or predicting trades ever got around to licking their fingers and nailing the
prevailing wind not emanating from their own hot-air balloons. Any undergraduate
worth his internet listing of cribsheets and term paper mills knows that the Good Gray
Poet sensed the frissons already beginning to unsettle the no'sphere and rattle
the prevailing pericope, electricity-wise. America would either come into its own as
beacon to the nations and the supreme democratic poem its launching in the New World
originally auspicated--or it would wheeze itself moribund amid the chamber pots of
commerce and old business dragged from Europe's comfort stations and pissoirs.
war among options, he perennially urged his readers to consider--the war that was no
longer the mother continent's to decide--was, as the Republic headed for the last century
before the dawning of a new millennium, America's to lose. The future, like the body of
America (indistinguishable, finally, from the American body), was charged with the
grandeur of all the Higher Magnetisms--
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the
the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers of the breath, the breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence
downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and
the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only,
but of the soul,
I say now these are the soul!
"I Sing the Body Electric" rhapsodizes the body
and its limitless energy fields across the recalcitrant pathways and linkages of
traditional language, obfuscation's last frontier. The solution to the human dilemma was
not to be pursued through a truly emancipated poetronics; such a poetronics was itself the
solution--so long as it remained unencumbered by the various numbing forces of the
ethereal, insubstantial and disembodied.
Fast forward now to our own post-Whitmanic-depressive state of
cybernetic funk, in which, for many, to continue trying to jump-start the poetical is to
flog the all but dead horse formerly known as Pegasus, and the outlook turns grim indeed.
Poets, used to apologizing for their very existence, have retreated to an unprecedented
cliff-edge of denial where they are waiting out the dry spell before the rebirth of wonder
prophesied by generations of Walt's progeny up to and including Ferlinghetti and the
multicultured stepchildren of Chuck Olson and the Black Mountaineers, whose glyphs and
gaffes presently clot the pages of miscellanies as monotonously clone-ish as Postmodern
American Poetry: A Norton Anthology and From the Other Side of the Century: A New
American Poetry, 1960-1990.
Has Whitman's legacy been amputated by too much unwanted,
undistinguished and unreadable verse product? Or has computer culture, the
McLu(ha)natic wonderland of Global Village idiots, obliterated with its home page his
love-achey map once a-bulge with padded baskets of relief? Can the body electric he sang
of still sing when everything that grounds its extremities has been hard-wired to
extinguish all non-iconic words and music?
Contrary to the brayings of Nasdaq supernerds and their academic
fellow travelers, there may actually be a future for poetry (if not for poets themselves)
within the interstices of the Resolution Revolution, that no-man's land between high
definition images and Ur-text, conscripted from archives of stock verbiage, to caption
them. If poetic apologists like Sir Philip Sidney were willing to grant the poetic the
power to range beyond mere poetry to encompass other frames, forms and media than those
traditionally allotted the practicing versifier, then why could a hitherto inimaginable
poetics not emerge, one willing to wholly jettison its Gutenberg past and neuromance the
stone of Infotainment till all its Medusan nullities shatter and a new age of expression
is ushered in? How Laurentian does one have to be to dream such dreams, which is to say,
boot such screen savers up? The author of The Rainbow and Aaron's Rod,
though a cautious claque for the Body Electric, had, as is well known, certain
reservations about accompanying Whitman's Unwashed All on the road to fulfillment. His Studies
in Classic American Literature makes the case for a revolution in feeling our way
back to the undivided self; it does not pump--or pimp--for a return to utter mindlessness,
whether bodied forth as tonic or not.
The possibilities for a regenerated poetics on a different order
of magnitude and intelligibility are clearly there, if there are those among us
far-sighted enough to seize them when they finally present themselves. What form they
might take, what shape they might evince cannot at this point be foretold. The new breed
of poetronic surfers, when their moment approaches apogee, may well echo Justice Potter
Stewart on pornography: they may not be able to define the possibilities in question, but
they'll know them when they sense them tsunami-ing toward their shores of light.