“Every Atom”: Getting Started (Course Materials and Structure)

My name is Christopher Merrill, I direct
the International Writing Program at the University Iowa
And I’m Ed Folsom in the English department at the
University of Iowa, and Co Director of the online Walt Whitman
archive. This massive online open course, or MOOC, on Walt Whitman grows out of a
project Ed and I have been conducting called The
Whitmen Web, where over the course the year we take readers section by section through that
signal document of American poetic history: Walt Whitman’s
song with myself. We thought that a course based on the whitman web would be a valuable thing to
do. That is, what this course really is going
to be about is reading an epic length poem, arguably the most influential and important poem in American literature,
and reading it carefully and closely, and reading it in
the context of the multitude of languages that we have it translated into on the
Whitman Web. We hope that one thing that all of you
will do as you’re reading this poem with us is take a look
at the translations. Listen to the recording of Song of
Myself in Persian by Sholeh Wolpe, the
translator of Song of Myself for the first time
in the Persian, and just to see and hear what the poem feels like, sounds like in another
language. And even if you only have a rudimentary knowledge of another language we
hope that you will take a look at the various sections of
Song of Myself in that particular language and begin to think of the challenges
and problems that every translator faces as he or she
tries to move Song of Myself into another language. And
you will see that after each section of the poem we include an introduction,
an afterward and questions for further thought and
reflection- ideas that we hope will be generated not only by the reading of the poem itself, but the
conversation that Ed and I have been conducting on the page and here in our studio at the
University of Iowa. So, enjoy. For this course we have assembled a number of online resources which we hope
you will take advantage of and explore, the most important of which is the Whitman archive co-founded by Ed Folsom and his colleagues at the
University of Virginia and the University of Nebraska. Ed, maybe you can walk us
through the Whitman archive. Yeah we’d love to have you use the archive as fully as you can. It’s a massive resource, there are endless tens of
thousands of documents, there are articles about Whitman, books about Whitman, all of whitman’s books in their various
editions are available on the archive. You can take a tour of the archive that
gives you a kind of overview of what resources are there, and I recommend that you
begin there with the tour and then take a look at the various
sections; you have the published works, and that’s where you’ll find all the
various additions of Leaved of Grass, six very good different editions of
Leaves of Grass, and Song of Myself goes through a transformation in each of
those editions. It’s arranged here in different formats, so Whitman will
sometimes have verse by verse numbered, sometimes will move into to a section structure, and we’ll talk about some about over the
course of our time together, but it is useful to know that you can go to those published works, call up the
editions of Leaves of Grass, and in each edition take a look at Song
of Myself as it appears there. We also have a a section called In
Whitman’s Hand, which offers you manuscript versions
of Whitman’s poetry, all known manuscripts of Song of Myself are available there so that you can get an idea of Whitman’s
workshop, how he began to conceive of the poem and how it first began to emerge. There’s a long biography on the archive that you can read and look at to get a good
sense of Whitman’s life and background, and
what he was going through historically, biographically, culturally during the times that he was revising
and transforming Leaves of Grass, and also revising Song of
Myself. There’s a section that gives you all
of the portraits of Whitman, photographic portraits. Whitman was a great lover of photography, for him it was the great democratic art, and you can watch Whitman
evolve over the years. He was one of the very first humans to be able to look
back on his life photographically and actually watch
himself age. And you can follow
that aging process in the portraits of
Whitman section. There are lots of other things on the
archive, explore it, and have fun with it, and
keep coming back to it to check on how Song of Myself evolves over a lifetime. A word about the structure and the evolution this course which, as we have said, came out of our work on
the whitman Web, the exploration that Ed and I have made of whitman’s Song of Myself. We recorded
over the course of several days a series of conversations, and just as Whitman wrote the first drafts of Song of Myself in a flush in 1854,
1855 and then spent the rest of his life
revising, extending, rethinking with the poem might
be all about, we have found ourselves coming back to
our conversations and thinking “well we might want to revise that, extend
that” our thought processes seem to be
evolving, don’t they? They do, and I like the analogy
with Whitman’s poem up because Song of Myself
originally was just one long unbroken flow and as whitman kept coming back to the poem
he began to see section divisions and he began to
see ways to frame particular parts of the poem in new and exciting ways, and he kept reframing
in rethinking. And so, in and one sense we’re going to reframe that set of conversations that we
had and come back and talk our way through
them, listen to ourselves, think our way
through Song of Myself, and we hope that what you’ll find in watching this set of classroom sessions is that you’ll see me a little something
different in the ways the conversations initially
took place and then we think through them again. It’s that
long process of coming to grips with a really complex
poem. This is one of the ways that we know
we’re in the presence of a great poem isn’t it, that we keep coming back to and thinking that
we are seeing anew because, in fact, as Whitman would tell us, we are
seeing anew.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *