Body language: The material bodily lower stratum in the poetry of Walt Whitman, Frank O'Hara, and Charles Bukowski
Reid, Bradford Jordan
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The paper takes a traditional mode of inquiry into comic theory and applies it to the work of three American poets, creating a lineage of American poetry that is essentially comic in nature. Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of laughter emanating from the lower bodily stratum (as exemplified by Rabelais) is central to understanding these three authors. Whitman, O'Hara, and Bukowski were all very different in their style, content, and tone, but they are linked by this fundamental bodily principle. All three found literary freedom by adhering to the truth of the body. Their work, taken as a lineage and viewed through the Bakhtinian lens, can function to blur traditionally divisive lines of canonical interpretation that have throughout history labeled each poet as 'low brow.' For O'Hara and Bukowski, this categorization has severely limited channels for serious critical interpretation of their work.