Al Filreis recently posted this on one of the forums: Al ponders “blab of the pave”
Walt thought of “blab of the pave” as the most democratic and American of music. He thought of the ideal poem as ambient noise, in effect. Social noise. The noise of a city, of a winter evening, with all the bustle and shouts and imprecations and loud bus drivers and snowball fights and horse hooves on cobble. He loved to listen to the urban American blab. He loved the sound and he “recorded” it in his poem. Song us all of us, jabbering together.
What struck me about this post was where my brain went after reading Filreis’s words. Recalling the highlighted section (8) of “Song of Myself”, I remembering being drawn to its gritty landscape of urban action and sound; urban poetics. My thoughts, however, traveled to a recent New Yorker blurb read the previous day regarding John Cage. John Cage was being honored by New York’s Mycological Society with a gala, “Roaming Urban Soundscapes”. The gala’s theme was Cage’s “49 Waltzes”, a piece commissioned by Rolling Stone in 1977. Cage’s “49 Waltzes” had been fashioned from a random collection of ambient sounds from spots around New York City.
Urban soundscapes….”blab of the pave”… I began to wonder, was John Cage a fan of Whitman? Google took me here. It seems that a young John Cage was reading “Leaves of Grass” while exploring Europe after he had dropped out of college. It had such a strong appeal that he desired to leave Europe to return to America. Cage remained in Europe per his Mother’s urging; and Whitman continued to influence. Cage wrote that when he traveled to Sevilla shortly after that, he was drawn to the sights and sounds of the urban landscape inspiring an interest in theatre and circus.
John Cage has never been on my radar, but now I am quite smitten. Lucky for me, Modern Poetry will discuss Cage in chapter 9.2.* Nine weeks from now…it seems eternity.
Until then I shall leave you with This:
(sidebar: if you’d like to listen to John Cage’s compositions, visit Spotify. I’ve been listening to various works while writing this evening, most interesting)
*For those of you who read this and think, “well, duh, of course there is a relation if ModPo is focusing on WW and JC”. You’d be correct IF I had read the syllabi that closely! Sadly, I had not, so this one was a happy discovery that came up when Googling “John Cage and Walt Whitman”.