A teacher friend of mine loves Walt Whitman’s work just like I do. She and her students regularly sound their “barbaric yawp” around the classroom and hallways. Unfortunately, as is the case in many schools, the administration does not appreciate nor understand poetic expression. She recently received this email from her principal:
I was asked what yopping was and I didn’t know how to respond. I was told it was resulting in loud noises in the classroom and hall way. Can you shed some light on this please.
Her response was this:
Famous American poet Walt Whitman was described as the poet “who spoke to all the world.” From his masterpiece of poetry Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself” includes the lines:
“…I too am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
When he yawps he shows his confidence and announces his importance in the world.
This is why my students “yawp.” We study Whitman; we write a song of myself; we discuss the significance of being heard, of having a voice, of using that voice to communicate effectively. Sometimes communication is loud—true education is often noisy.
Several years ago, my students and I began yawping when we felt it was necessary. Other teachers and classes were inspired to do the same. It has never been a negative issue because it is done so infrequently. However, it has been a source of camaraderie and joy.
Bravo, I say. Bravo to her courageous teaching in the face of pedestrian leadership. Bravo to her students for taking a chance on being “untranslatable.”
Nothing else, I tell you, nothing else fucking matters.