Thursday, December 17, 2009

Walt Whitman's Blue Jeans



Levi Jeans commercials make me want to google them. There was the brilliant one from last year with the girl and the guy stripping while one-upping each other with selfish lies:





Then there was one even further back that I still remember with actor Gael Garcia Bernal and the Air song, "Playground Love:"





Then, last summer, I saw this one in front of a movie (not sure which), but it has stuck with me ever since, and I still see it on TV every once in a while. It is probably my favorite advertisement of the last few years:





It's very Dead Poet's Society with a touch of too hipster for school. And that's just what I like about it. It gets you marching to the beat of a different drummer...Walt Whitman himself. I literally mean that. I walk around Clinton Middle School with these images in my head (stellar camera work in this thing) and the sound of that poem in my head. It flows so well. The imagery in those stanzas makes you wish you were a true artist. 


COME, my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!


For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

When I hear these words I can feel Whitman's fascination with America, with America heading West, a pioneer preaching "pioneers!" They make me want to be a pioneer. A leader of "tan-faced children." "Go West, young man!" I say in my head. These powerful words, how they make me want to say how much I love them, how their syllabic stresses and unstresses compose a beat, a melody. And how with the help of creative cinematography and editing, music, bodies in motion, they are transformed into something cool, here and now, worth watching. I haven't gone out to buy any Levi's yet, but I think Walt might just be calling me to get some.

A pioneer in denim, I'll be. 

A denim pioneer of lessons in poetry. 

My eighth graders participated in a project Monday thru Wednesday of this past week that had them on a scavenger hunt for simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, repetition (hey! I just found some of that "Pioneers! O pioneers!"), end rhyme, internal rhyme, hyperbole, etc. We placed 35 poems around the CMS auditorium, and the students had to go around in groups and pick out examples of the aforementioned figurative language. We only had one Whitman poem up there, "I Hear America Singing" (personification). A better one for the age group I have. However, I am often disheartened when I see these children (young adults?) wondering around without care or passion for the things I love so much. I doubt that more than a handful really got something out of the project. 

In a way, I feel like I'm trying to achieve through teaching poetry what Whitman achieved with in writing this poem. That is, trying to inspire the young and the lost to go out and explore, to think outside the box, to be a little smarter. And I wonder if, when they (my students) see this commercial on TV, they think it's cool and get the itch to google it. I mean go back up and read those beginning stanzas in red, they speak directly to them. And they make me want to try harder next time around. 


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