In 1855, a new poet introduced himself to the world: “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos / Disorderly, fleshly, sensual…eating drinking and breeding.” Experimental in its use of free verse; progressive in its treatment of race, gender, and sexuality; and above all democratic in its politics and its spirituality, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass stoked a vast fire that swept through world poetry, consuming and altering all the landscape before it.
One-hundred sixty years later, we have confirmation that Whitman’s poetic wildfire is finally under control. Sharon Olds’s new volume Odes is the firebreak we’ve been waiting for, the clearing across which we can safely watch Whitman’s flames dim to embers.
I came to love The Beach Boys as a typical ’90s child, watching The Muppets’ “Kokomo” endlessly on Nickelodeon, fascinated by the twitching hula girls’ vacant eyes and Kermit’s spastic ukulele strumming, smooth steelpan sounds rippling across the melody’s placid surface. I guess I thought that bunny with the sunglasses was pretty cool. According to Muppet Wiki, his name is Be-Bop and he also scats.
I admit my artistic sensibility was embarrassingly underdeveloped at age six. I adored Ace of Base’s “I Saw the Sign,” with its moody black-and-white video, the animated flames and floating ankhs (ankhs were pretty cool in the 90s. I can’t explain why.).