RTW: Required Reading
Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question to write about on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.
This week's topic:
Back to school time! What's your favorite book that you had to read for a class?
We had a great first day back to school yesterday! Toad is in 4th grade and Birdy started Kindergarten.
Today's topic is a tough one for me. As an English major and a political science minor with a focus on political theory, and then as a grad student in creative writing, I read a TON. Back in March, the Road Trip took us to favorite literary moments, and when I looked back on it, several of them (ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, and "The Story of an Hour") had been assigned reading.
I gave this a lot of thought, and landed on a book that came as a surprise even to me. My professor would go into shock if he knew.
Walt Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS.
"The most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed." — Ralph Waldo Emerson. Inspired by transcendentalism, Whitman's immortal collection includes some of the greatest poems of modern times, including his masterpiece "Song of Myself." Shattering standard conventions of symbolism and allegory, it stands as an unabashed celebration of body and nature.
|source: University of Rhode Island|
I used to love poetry. Reading poetry, writing poetry. Finding poetry in everyday life, in the lyrics of songs.
I was not a very good poet, but it wasn't until my junior year of college that I was told -- by my poetry writing professor -- just how bad I was. In front of the the whole class. As a 20-year-old college student, I should have been able to take that with a grain of salt, but instead I swallowed that bitter pill and stopped writing poetry.
Many years later I returned to school for my MFA in Creative Writing and was forced to take two poetry classes -- Form & Technique in Poetry and Contemporary Poetry. When I whined to the program director (Rick Robbins, who is an awesome guy and a fantastic poet, by the way), he just shrugged and said, "You knew what you were getting into when you applied."
We studied LEAVES OF GRASS in Rick's class, as well as a companion text, WALT WHITMAN: THE MEASURE OF HIS SONG.
I was moved. Beyond measure.
I went on to read his Civil War poems and dive back into more literature from this, my favorite era in American Literature. We must have had an assignment to write something inspired by Whitman, and I wrote a very short tribute, a three-page story about a Union soldier named Eliot Gray:
Eliot Gray, dying in the hot Virginia sun... thought of home and of the lush, green grass of Beacon Hill. He thought of Catharine Kellen and the books they had loved. He thought of that day in the spring, before the war, the sunny spring Sunday in the Common, when he had read aloud from a book of poems. Had she removed her shoes and stockings and walked in the barefoot in the grass? He thought she had.
Eliot Gray knew the words of the poet, Mr. Whitman, and with brown, brittle grass against his rough cheek, he whispered, The smoke of my own breath, echoes, ripples, and buzzed whispers.... the beating of my heart....the passing of blood and air through my lungs.
Eliot Gray felt the beating of his heart, the passing of blood and air through his lungs, and he knew that he was dying.I didn't expect to learn so much and be so moved by this book, and perhaps that is why it stands out for me.
How about you? What is your favorite book of required reading?
“And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass