Anthony Abuan reads from Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”.
By: Eliza Partika
Anthony Abuan, a current Lit major at San Francisco State University, mused on the language of Walt Whitman with Mrs. Gaines’s AP Lang students September 4, 2015 in the ALS Room. Although he has done many presentations to students before, they are normally centered on college talks rather than curriculum based material. Even so, the students listened intently to Abuan’s gentle southern drawl, a disposition of Whitman he picked up while helping students with their writing.
Much of the session was spent analyzing Whitman’s poem A Noiseless Patient Spider, in which Whitman is describing a spider on a wall and comparing it to the vastness of the world. Abuan felt that themes such as this and others of Whitman’s, like human emotion and sensuality should be covered with poetry in high school, because the poignant themes in poetry define all people, not just hopeless romantics. Abuan wanted students to realize that poetry is not at all like the sappy and often banal verse that it tends to be stereotyped as, but that it’s really “prose refined to the most important words,” and that those important words apply to everyday life. He also felt that it is truly important for students to be exposed to poets like Whitman in a much larger sense than just a selected few of their works. By being exposed to more, there are more lessons to draw from, and thus more wisdom to turn to when life gets tough.
“Looking back,” he said, “I only read these one or two poems in high school, and I feel shorted.”
Abuan dug deeply into Whitman’s characteristics and how that played into his writing. “ What makes Whitman different is that he is an adventurer, a pioneer in the literal and metaphorical sense.” Abuan said in response to a question on the difference between Whitman and other poets.“He has a frankness and a boldness about himself, what it means to be him.” It is this frankness that Abuan wanted the students to explore.He encouraged them to “go out and find something meaningful to you” emboldening them to “catch their gossamer thread somewhere”, to discover the world around them through language, and in turn find themselves, just as Whitman found himself through poetry.
But most of all, Abuan hoped that students would come away with the knowledge that the transition from high school to college “kicks the legs out from under you,” so sometimes “you need someone like Whitman to help you through it.”