Wednesday, September 18, 2013

ModPo 2013 #7 The Lonely, Happy Genius and The Sleepers: How Williams is Whitmanian and Dickinsonian in his poem, "Danse Russe"

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Note: I am currently taking a course on called Modern and Contemporary American Poetry taught by Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania. I will be posting my thoughts on the course discussions here.

I see three distinct divisions in the poem: 1) the series of "ifs" which mention the sleepers, 2) the description of the persona in his room dancing grotesquely before his mirror, celebrating his loneliness (and admiring his naked body) behind yellow drawn shades and then 3) a new stanza which deals entirely with the "then" that addresses the "ifs": (Then) who shall say I am not/ the happy genius of my household?

I see, here, a story of the only one awake in his household. "Genius" in the sense of creative power is related to the persona being free, being creative and also being lonely in this freedom and creativity. He does not mind being lonely, saying "I am best so."

It is interesting that he does not deal with this distinction as a full boast...but rather as a conditional question. It is a slanted boast. It is even a defensive boast. He is dealing with an accusation that has not even been dealt yet. He courts this judgment by describing his dance as "grotesque." He puts this scene in the reader's face daring the reader to go ahead and be disgusted. I like how WCW engages the reader with the question and with his provocative description of what he is doing behind closed doors.

WCW celebrates his creativity, his body in a very Whitmanian way but he (in this poem) also has a very Dickinsonian view of creativity: it is lonely, it is powerful enough to be stimulated even in a room (with drawn shades) in the suburbs, and it is being awake in an environment of sleepers.

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