Walt Whitman & Popular Culture Commentary

‘O Captain! My Captain’ is one of Walt Whitman’s most famous poems. Written in 1865, it is an extended metaphor poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln. Originally published in a pamphlet regarding the American Civil War, it was then added to the fourth edition of Leaves of Grass, a comprehensive collection of Whitman’s poetry in 1867. It has referenced in Dead Poets Society, Family Guy, Doctor Who and the Avengers Assemble TV series among many others.

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Walt Whitman & Popular Culture is an intertextual adaptation of a collection of Walt Whitman’s poetry using WordPress. My project is focused on the use of Whitman’s poetry in contemporary pop culture such as Dead Poets Society and Breaking Bad. I will use a selection of poems taken from the Leaves of Grass collection, including ‘Song of Myself’ which is thought to represent Whitman’s poetic vision.

The website will aim to present the poetry in an engaging and informative way by embracing the use of digital outlets such as Soundcloud, an audio platform. As Linda Hutcheon states that ‘the aural is just as important as the visual,’ this will also enhance the listener’s perception of the poems. I chose to include readings from myself, as I felt that this would add a more personal level to the project – and to it’s audience – rather than finding an existing reading online. This allowed me to focus heavily on the themes of Whitman’s poems, and reiterate this into the commentary pages.

To focus on the authorship of the poems, the website will contain biographical information on Whitman, manuscripts, audio readings of a selection of poems, notes on themes and their presence in contemporary pop culture. Hutcheon believes that ‘audiences operate in a context that includes their knowledge and their own interpretation of the adapted work,’ so these additional pieces will help the audience to build on their existing knowledge of Whitman and his poems.

Although an archive of Walt Whitman’s poems already exists, I have decided to look at the intertextuality of Whitman’s poetry with current pop culture as this shows it can be continually analyzed and processed in new ways. The inclusion of this also develops an understanding of the thoughts and creative processes many readers have while reading his poetry.

Overall, I hope to create a website that is stimulating to those familiar with Whitman’s work, as well as accessible to a new audience. By categorically moving away from an advanced ebook format adaptation and instead creating a website with hyperlinks, embedded sound and manuscripts, I hope to reflect on both the contemporary standings of Whitman’s poetry as well as his poetic vision.

Website: Walt Whitman & Popular Culture (in progress)
Soundcloud: Walt Whitman (in progress)

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