Well, I'm here with Anna and Erica. Hello you two. Hi. Hi. We are here to talk about a poem that appears in this book by Divya Victor, and the book is called Kith. Toward the end of this book, it's pretty sizable book, we have a long poem that's broken up into alphabetical pieces, and the poem is called foreign terms. I'm going to read an epigraph from the poem. Foreign words and phrases that have not yet become anglicized, not founded Webster's, are italicized on first appearance in text and legends. That's from the style manual for National Geographic. Another epigraph from the beginning of this poem, almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble. Wow. Wow. The first page is a facsimile of an English Tamil exercise book. Tamil being the language of a certain section of India and also partly of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. You have almost a dictionary thing. Then you go through the poem and you begin to get alphabetical sections. We're skipping all the way to the end. The last poem is not Z, nor is it Y, nor is it X, it's W. W is for Walt Whitman's Soul. That's the poem we're going to talk about because we're Whitman fans. I guess given that epigraph, foreign words and phrases have not yet become anglicized, and almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble. As people who've read and heard this poem read, what are some observations about how it sounds and what words are used in it? Get us started, Anna. Well, I guess one place to start would be the other epigraph that she uses in this poem, which is one of the very first Indian words to enter the English language, was the Hindustani slang for plunder; loot, and there's an awful lot of loot and looting in this poem. Yes. Say more about that epigraph. This is to be just for the record, not the epigraph to the poem that's got all the alphabetic, but this particulars poem. This is just particulars section within that. Say the obvious about why would it be that one of the first Indian words to become part of English is this incriminating word? Well, because the English did an awful lot of looting and plundering and pillaging. Of what though, by the way? Of the entire Indian subcontinent. Yes, but I mean to be a little more specific. What were they interested in, certainly originally? Let's say like tea, spices, jewels, valuables, resources. Natural resources, resources of the orient are so-called. Right. Anna, we do have spices in tea, and Indian delicacy I guess. How does the poem, which uses so many of these things as luscious words, words that are plumbing in the cheeks, tongue, lips, and internal rhyming that creates that plumbness be jeweled and oiled loins anointed by coin, that emission of plump, plums, lump sums into the Ganges. My cheeks, tongue, and lips are doing a lot of plumbing work. Reminds me of October in the Railroad Earth. Yeah, yeah, lum mum, Lum, mum. But what is Divya Victor achieving by piling up all these spices into a great, wonderful basket that gets to be imported to your Anglo-American eyes and ears, I should say? She's looting English to do this work. That's like a double act. She's looting the English that got looted. Yeah. It's an act of reclaiming, maybe. All right. Now I like that. If I in regular idiomatic parlance were to come up to you and say, I'm vying for Walt Whitman's Soul. It means I want the Whitman that I want. What are the two Whitman's intention here? This W is for Walt Whitman Soul. Which soul? There are two Whitman's here. There's the Whitman who got very excited, especially toward the end of his career, about imperialism and colonialism and American colonialism. They didn't live long enough to see "us" take the Philippines. That's later, that's the officially the only colony at that period. Hawaiians would probably argue otherwise. But anyway, the Whitman who was cheering on passage to India, the Whitman who really wanted us to reach out and see and include in the Whitmanian sense of inclusion, everything, and therefore was a bit of a plunderer and a bit of a defender of American linguistic. In the name of American democracy, linguistic vistas, which would include the world. The Suez Canal, for instance, and the celebration of that is so Whitmanian, he really had a blind spot, we would say, at the end of his career. There's that Whitman, and then there's the soul of the Whitman who is a model for the accumulations and the catalogs and the plummy sounds of language. W is for Walt Whitman's Soul. I guess now the question I don't know the answer to is, and we'll start with Erica is, what stance does this poem take or does Divya Victor take or does her speaker take in relation to Whitman? Well, I think that what's brilliant about this poem is that it's simultaneously a critique of Whitman while enacting the cataloging that we know of his poetry. So it's both. The contents of the poem, I would say, is going towards the critique of what we were just talking about Whitman. But then the way that the poem is written and the rhythms of the poem and the really long sentences and the cataloging, it's doing that. It's fascinating in how it's working on both levels. In a way in responsive, my using the idiom of vying for soul, it is a contestation itself for the Whitman we mistrust, the capacious, or the gross reaching, groping Whitman that gives us the heebie-jeebies, the Whitman that Williams assumed. Sure. One would say libidinal, but that's not necessarily relevant here, or to use Bob Perelman's word, appetitious, the appetitious Whitman who would've enjoyed drinking the Earl Grey tea and all this, and the other Whitman that we'd been talking about. Let me read the last part of it and I'll ask each of you to respond and then we'll do some final thoughts and wrap up. So it can sell them with a name of a place like scarves or garlanded whores moored to wharves suckled by mother of pearl or teas named after Earls and they with whole scores to settle settle for homemade cures nettles ginger turmeric, a paste or to taste, and it steals and seals in letters scented with sandal sent abroad waxed and pressed with cornelian gems, honed from ground it owns and makes stone from their flesh ekes ink from their sweat soaks indigo in lye fermented with time and makes color so it can bid for its own passage, the passage, O of this soul, to India. Erica, what do you hear there besides an amazing control of internal rhyming? I think the end is absolutely a critique of Whitman. But again, to go back to when we were talking about the tone of the poem, I don't think the speaker is pissed off, even though it is a critique. Because what I heard in the language is, I think it was Anna who was talking about the poem as reclaiming language that was colonized. So I see in this piling up that evolves to this exclamatory, it ends with an exclamation point. It's ironic, it's absolutely a critique. It's almost a quote from Whitman, the exclamation point. Absolutely, but it's so full of energy too. I'm trying to figure out how to say what I'm thinking. I think that in the control of language building up to this point, you got the critique simultaneous with a certain celebration. All right, Anna, now, we get to the 'it', I'm going to read the first few lines and your job is to try to understand the 'it' in, "It sits with a fork." Good luck. "It sits with a fork made from a lotus on an ivory chair, eating an elephant steak in the company of bears and feral nautch girls on a monsoon evening incandescent with an appetite as mighty as railroads," there's Whitman, "As railroads spanned across seas and reclines. Its cheeks burnished, its ass varnished by suns setting on bronze and sugared with saltpeter, its torso a tableaux for the annals of rectitude, the theater for roiling or robust passage, a veritable Suez Canal." Anna, 'it'. I don't know, it's so hard. The title is W is for Walt Whitman's Soul, right? So it could be the soul, 'it'. It could be soul. The soul of Whitman, sits with a fork. It's a gluttonous imperium at the table. It sits with a fork made of lotus on ivory chair. So there's a chair, there's a fork, there's dancing girls. It has a fork in the upper hand, has a torso. An appetite as mighty as a Whitman poem, it's this gross meal of looted language stuff that is a veritable Suez Canal. Erica, your thought on either the 'it' or the veritable Suez Canal? Because veritable does suggest that this is an analogy of some kind. Well, is the veritable Suez Canal the 'it'? If so, help us. If so, I feel like it goes back to the critique of Whitman. It might be, like if you think of it as a critique of Walt Whitman's Soul, then is it thinking more globally of the looting of language or the looting of things. This poem transports a tremendous load, overflowing of spices and jewels directly to our eyes. In a way, it is a veritable Suez Canal, or an instance linguistically of a veritable Suez Canal. Not that it can be said to be guilty of what Johnson is saying, but in fact, the speaker of this poem knows more than someone who's an idiot because they tried to imitate what they aren't or what they don't understand. There's a certain understanding here. Final thoughts on this amazing piece. Anna, final thought of any kind? Well, my Whitmanian final thought is that there's a moment in canto 47 of Song of Myself, where Whitman says the best among my students learns to destroy the teacher. We'll talk about destroying the teacher. It out-Whitman's Whitman. It out-Whitman's Whitman in every possible opportunity. It's a blab of the pave least poem that's so deeply languaged that also performs the political work of reclaiming the language that was looted, rather than just simply cataloging a scene. I'm not trying to diss Whitman, but this poem very much out-Whitman's Whitman, in its politics, in its critique of the language that was looted, in its critique of like the stuff that was looted. My favorite moment of those, sorry I'm going to say my second half. My final word is "Towards the end, the mother of pearl or tease, named after Earls like bergamot the tea in Earl Grey tea, that's what that tea should have been named for not after Earl Grey. Should have been named bergamot. Bergamot's such a better sound command of the mouth. Yeah, that's great. It's so great. Erica. My final thought was also going to be around the incredible way the poem is constructed and how I think that this poem out-Whitman's Whitman, because there is no moment in it that feels sloppy or excessive, the command over language, the brilliant internal rhyming stuff happens that's just fabulous. My final thought is anti-climactic after those two wonderful thoughts. But you said blab of the pave. So blab of the pave happens in either Brooklyn and Manhattan. I believe it's Manhattan. It's in the theater district. It's the snow falling and a theater is letting out and there's a lot going on. It's a lot of noise, and it's a great passage in Song of Myself. But here we have this irony, it's as if the blab of the pave that is the site or locale of the blabbing and therefore the locus of this man's aesthetic. It's as if that pave were somehow to have been stretched across the sea or through a canal, which of course is impossible. That's a mixed metaphor. You can't have a blab of the pave that's global. But here, notice Divya Victor reminds us of that impossibility. With an appetite as mighty as railroad spanned across seas. There's the Whitmanian Manifest Destiny tool trope railroad, which Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen and a whole lot of other people have appropriated as their trope of America, the American soul. I think of Springsteen in land of hope and dreams, in which we get a railroad where Springsteen, the speaker of that is saying, "I'll accompany you as far as I can, come on board, come on board." They're clearly crossing the prairies of the US and Springsteen is being Whitman, he's saying, "I'll guide you. I can't take you to the promised land, but I'm your friend." That's a very American continental, that is the American continent, and manifest destiny thing. Well, manifest destiny is all well and good, if you're the aforementioned Steinbeck or even Springsteen, let's get to California. Or even if you're Frank L Baum in The Wizard of Oz, it's all about getting to the land of milk and honey. That's not fine because of all the people you had to kill and displace on the way there. But in the American context, you can say that and get away with it if you're Whitman somewhat, but it's a little harder to get away with a railroad that spans across seas, goes through the canal, extracts all the resources and gets away with it. Wow, I thought that was going to be a small point, it turned out to be a big point. So I think that Divya Victor is putting the lie to the metaphor of the railroads spanning right at the beginning and signaling to us that there's a problem here with Whitmanian capaciousness and there's a lot it doesn't understand. Thank you both. This was good. Thank you.