Back in college, in order to complete my English major I had to take what is known as a Major Authors course – a class focused on the works of one or two major authors. Admittedly, I first had my eye on a Poe and Hawthorne course, but the timing for that class didn’t work for my schedule, so I found myself in a Walt Whitman course with a professor who had a profoundly positive influence on my academic career. In short, that class was the highlight of my college experience.
If you’re not familiar with Walt Whitman’s poetry, well… you should be. I now have a well-loved copy of Leaves of Grass in my possession and it’s one of my favorites. Anyway, after that class I also took a creative writing course with the same professor, and my time learning about ol’ Uncle Walt directly inspired one of my final poems for that class, which is below:
Walt Whitman could stand on rooftops
and he could sound his barbaric ‘Yawp!’ to the world.
I have stood on rooftops, but the most I have ever managed,
is a decidedly anticlimactic ‘squeak.’
Walt Whitman marveled at the splendor of a noiseless, patient spider
while I crushed their silken threads with a boot.
Walt Whitman made a promise to California,
but I have never seen those distant, golden shores.
Walt Whitman could hear America singing,
but it’s a tune I’ve never been able to carry.
Walt Whitman sang the song of the open road, a call to all the world,
I have stared down empty highways, fearful of where they lead.
I am no Walt Whitman.
But someday, I should like to lay in leaves of grass
beneath a splendid, silent sun
and the song of myself will take shape
and I will come out from behind this mask
set sail upon that sea of time
and while I am roaming in thought,
I will find that all is truth.
The world should take good notice
of men like Walt Whitman.
And the world should hope to see
many poets to come
who heard his song of the universal,
and learned well his lessons
and they shall sound a carol of words
to the kosmos.
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There are a lot of things in this world that, when combined, make a perfect pair. Peanut butter and jelly, for instance. Cheese and crackers. Cereal and milk. Chips and salsa – or, alternatively, chips and guacamole. But some pairings are not so obvious… like Batman and Walt Whitman.
I decided to explore this unusual combo for my Major Authors/Walt Whitman class while I was at university. After struggling for several days to nail down a topic for my 20-30 page paper, I realized that there are only a few subjects that I know anything of substance about, and one of those topics is Batman. So, while sitting in an airport, I emailed my professor, asking “How far out of the box are we allowed to go with our paper topic?” Her response was: “Box =========>Topic,” thus assuring me that I could be as unorthodox as I desired. After presenting her with my ideas, she granted me her approval, and I set to work, scouring my many Batman-related resources and a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass to achieve what was probably the best paper of my academic career… with the possible exception of a Tron: Legacy paper, which I am very fond of.
This paper led to me becoming an undergraduate presenter at the 2012 national PCA/ACA conference in Boston, MA. George Takei was the guest speaker that year, and there were so many amazing presentations and intriguing concepts that I instantly felt out-of-place upon my arrival. Since I would be making my presentation on the second day of the conference, my friend and I sat in on the first day of undergraduate presentations to get an idea of what I was going to endure. It was going well, at first. There was a presentation about The Vampire Diaries, one about gender equality. Then one girl gave a presentation about politics (I forget exactly what it was about, but it was very informative and she was well-spoken) and a man in the audience absolutely RIPPED HER TO SHREDS with questions. I was sitting in the back and could FEEL this girl’s bewilderment as this man tore into her, and there was nothing she could say to counter his scathing remarks. She just sank down in her seat and fell silent. It was mortifying to witness, and I began to fear for my life. What if the same thing happened to me? If someone questioned me like that after my presentation I would crumple like an autumn leaf! I CANNOT HANDLE THE PRESSURE.
After a night of nonstop worrying and listening to some tracks from The Dark Knight soundtrack to calm my anxiety, the next day arrived, relentlessly swift, and I walked into the conference room where my presentation was to take place. There were five of us set to present, and I was third in the roster. I was also the ONLY person who did not dress formally. The other four students were in suits, dress shirts, and proper business attire. One girl wore a dress. Me? I was in ripped jeans and a Batman T-shirt. No one informed me that there was a dress code.
My entourage was in the audience, ready to cheer me on. I had a fancy power-point presentation all set up, and even offered to let the other students use my laptop for their own presentations, so we wouldn’t have to shift cords and switch outlets. One girl gratefully took me up on the offer, but the professor of the first presenter snidely informed me that her student “would prefer to use his OWN laptop.” Okay. Great start.
Things went from bad to worse when our moderator/chair showed up… and it was the same man who lambasted the girl from the presentation I saw the day before. I very nearly fainted when I saw him walk in, and my friend and I exchanged a look of pure horror. I was doomed. DOOMED. Even the Caped Crusader couldn’t save me from this.
Anyway, I was, glaringly, the odd man out of this group. The first student presented something about football and hegemony, and the second something about Scottish nationalism. Both very esteemed topics. I wish I could say I remembered anything about their projects, but I don’t, because I was too busy ruminating my pending demise to really pay attention, which doesn’t imply anything about their speeches. Really, I was too anxious to absorb anything other than my own fear, and kept repeating, “Why did I agree to do this? WHY? WHYYYY?” over and over in my head.
My turn came. I drew in a deep breath, and, though my voice shook at the start, I launched into my presentation, which I’d practiced rigorously for a week. My power-point was masterful, featuring only the best transitions. I nailed the quotes, and the points of comparison. It was a blur of poetry and justice, and the memory of my own presentation is somewhat hazy in my head, but I remember the burst of applause, and the ensuing relief when I finished.
The final two presenters went, and then it was time for the final hurdle; QUESTION TIME. Naturally, a voice said, “I’ve got a question. For Miss *real last name*”
It was the moderator, of course.
I inhaled deeply, ready to be eviscerated, and he proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed my presentation and wanted to know what I thought about Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in relation to Whitman, to which I gave a reply of how Batman has somehow, in each of his incarnations, reflected society at the time, and then something about Whitman’s poetry doing the same. He nodded, satisfied, and then fielded the remainder of the questions, several of which were directed to me. I survived.
Better yet? I triumphed, in the face of fear and doubt. And now, when I get nervous about things like this, I ask myself only one question: What would Batman/Walt Whitman do?