Previously Published on Blogetary 1.0 August 2014.
Whitman resonates with me. I can pick up Leaves of Grass and open it just about anywhere and within about a minute I’m saying, “Yes, that’s it exactly!” In my opinion Leaves of Grass is a true epic poem of the U.S. It might not be Homer’s Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeneid or Iliad, but Whitman uses the poems within this volume to try to encompass the greatness and the potential he saw in the U.S., and I feel him.
One of the passages that I have been thinking of a lot lately is about the great “barbaric yawp” — Walt Whitman’s description of our need to express ourselves:
“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Lines 1328-30
Many people didn’t really pay attention to the “barbaric yawp” until they saw Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams’ character is trying desperately to get these young men to let go their yawp and make their mark on the world.
In a very real sense, Leaves of Grass is Whitman’s own “barbaric yawp” which he admits to being “untranslatable”.
But lately, sometimes it feels like everyone out there in the Internets is clambering to be heard. Are these authentic yawps though? Are they truly shout outs in expressing of ourselves? Our “Song of Ourselves”? Or are they merely grabs for attention?
Sometimes it feels like when we strive to make our truly authentic yawp sound out over the roofs of the world that no one is listening. It’s a big echo chamber and people are so busy trying to make themselves heard, or so tired of the yapping and yawping, and trying to tell the difference between the true and the fake, that they have gone off….
And so you reach your authentic self and try to really yell out, really let go, cuz this one’s for real baby —
And there’s no one to hear. No return answer, no acknowledgement that you’ve found your authentic self and are showing it to the world in this bold-as-brass expression!
Or maybe there’s a snort of derision.
And maybe it’s untranslatable.
That doesn’t make it any less authentic, or real, or absolutely your own expression that you have every right to put out there in the world. It just means that, like Whitman, sometimes we have to live with the fact that not everyone is going to get our “yawp”. We’re going to let loose and get a load of crickets in return. But that’s okay.
One of my recent strivings toward expressing myself has been to enter my book of short stories, UnCommon Faire: A Fiction Sideshow, into a contest for published collections of short stories of speculative fiction. It sounds like the college press (Etchings Press at University of Indianapolis) is trying to build up their library of scifi/fantasy short stories to use as study material, because even if you don’t win, they’re keeping the material for future use in their department library. And they want everything that’s a novella or smaller.
My striving to “yawp” in the direction of independent bookstores, of trying to reach beyond those people I know on the Interwebs, didn’t work. All but one of the 30 books I sent out on consignment was sent back to me. I would have loved for the bookstores to keep them, “just in case”, but in all cases they’d already kept them at least six months past their three to six month cut off. My yawp went unheard, or was untranslatable. The yell fell flat in the echo chamber of independent bookstores (Yes – I tried both Village Books and Skylight Books, and Chevalier’s was having none of it after my tiny little first book signing).
But this contest at UIndy — they HAVE to listen. They might snort in derision, but they HAVE to keep the book I send, even if I lose (most importantly if I lose). So, I tossed in my other three novellas (even though they were separate from the collection, they WERE novellas, after all – like Cinderella – they are still “ladies of the house”). I included my contest reading fee (otherwise known as a $20 bribe for them to keep my books!), and a letter explaining that the novellas were extra (not part of the contest) as I believe in not only proselytizing writing, but also proselytizing speculative fiction writing, so I was “donating them to the cause”.
The deadline is September 1. I put them in the mail on Monday. They arrived today (per USPS tracking number), and I feel like I can breathe. But I’m still crossing my fingers that some overly diligent Dudley or Dudleyette DoRight doesn’t decide to mail them back to me. I have sounded my “yawp” — or one of my “yawps”. And this time they have to listen. They just have to.