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Responses to American Poetry

The aim of this online space is to host the research work of university students or young scholars as this emerges from larger projects focusing on the American poetry scene. The objective of this initiative is to bring this kind of research activity to the attention of the general public in an attempt to further promote the exchange of ideas with regard to the process of reading, understanding and appreciating poetry writing.


Tatiani Rapatzikou 
(Associate Professor, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Advisor and initiative co-ordinator

Athena Papadopoulou

Walt Whitman in Retrospect

Walt Whitman, just like many other eminent literary names such as William Shakespeare and Ezra Pound, for the undergraduate student of English literature is one the most essential figures, which they need to embark on. Through this workshop, we were given the opportunity to come closer with Whitman and to view him through diverse and even polarising and contrasting lenses. For some, he was a radical poet who spoke of democracy, while at the same time he may not advocate for other races, a poet who was aware of life and how double-sided it is; that is at least what I experienced from reading his poetry while attempting to delve into it and  analyse it. But an analysis fails to truthfully justify both the poet and their artefacts.

In other words, when one is asked to create something on such a powerful and dynamic poet, they need to come closer to the poet’s character and way of thinking. But how can one truly communicate with those who are dead? Even if you study all their works and biographies, the true essence of their thought is obscured. Deeply inspired by Rocky Wilson’s performance and impersonation of Walt Whitman, we knew that we had to revive him. Whitman’s legacy about the difficulties of life can be applied to our twenty-first century era, governed by technological advances while providing access to so many means, which Whitman couldn’t have imagined. We animated Walt Whitman in the year of 2022, and he was to speak with the ideal vassal, an individual who studied him and his ideals, a student of English literature. 

We created a parallel between Walt Whitman’s multilayeredness and the anxieties of the younger generation of our era. As we know, students are burdened with too many assignments, perhaps illogically as they cannot see past their stress in order to deliver them or perhaps they do not make the most of the opportunity they have to pause and reflect on their meaning. The student in our creative piece deconstructs Whitman, not in an effort to understand the poet himself, but to understand themselves; and this is the role of poetry, to offer opportunities for reflection. This is a quest of self-discovery and Whitman is reconstructed at the end as the student composes their poem. 

Whitman is reconstructed by an individual who struggles to be recognised both academically and poetically in an urban space, where everyone struggles for survival. A city has a reciprocal relationship with its habitants, and to flourish you have to know yourself, in other words to leave your footprint. Therefore, Walt Whitman in this piece is animated in an urban jungle through the use of diverse media. We did not solely write a script, but we also created a video. As you know, with the explosion of variants of covid-19, we had to alter many times our piece and find new ways to shoot scenes, when we couldn’t be together. Thus, for the dialogues between Whitman and the student, we used apps for podcasts. Additionally, apart from the two primary voices, we included different languages like Spanish and a Japanese haiku so as to establish a feeling of multiple languages, mimicking the High Modernist poets, Pound and Eliot, but also to sire a united front. 

As it is understood, we like to think that this is not a singular creative project, but rather an accumulation of voices and mediums. The events featuring in it may be taking place in the present, yet when one travels through the reading of poetry one realises that the chronotope created can’t be fixed. When we read or when we write, everything is in flux and is constantly shifting. Perhaps because the urban space is constantly evolving as well. Alas, one thing is known, regardless of the era that you live in or the language that you speak; the fears of life and the quest of self-discovery is diachronic, transcultural and can be found inside all of us. 

Contributor Bio: Athene Papadopoulou

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