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Whitman's Poetic Influence: An Interview with Hailey Rolon

Wind Carry me Across Lake By Hailey Rolon

Co-Editor to MCLA’s SmART Commons Blog Mannie McBride (M), sat down with student Hailey Rolon (H) to interview them about the poem they wrote for an Advanced Poetry class both students are taking.

M: Okay, so first question. Can you talk a bit about who Walt Whitman was and what he means to you as a poet?

H: Well, my advanced poetry class introduced me to him. I've known vaguely about Walt Whitman. Yeah, he's that kind of name in poetry, but I've never actually... spent time with his work, so being able to do that through an assignment helped me get closer to his writing just in a more personal way. Sort of sitting with his work and taking my time with it and sort of understanding what sort of conventions of writing he was using. I just really enjoyed how he focuses on the natural world, and I wanted to sort of incorporate that into my own work.

M: So, I assume it was a good experience taking from him and learning how to write like that?

H: Yeah, it was. It was super inspiring. And I just like the act of becoming sort of like a writing chameleon.

M: I love that. A writing chameleon. So, again focusing back on Whitman, what about his writing style inspires you going forward?

H: Yeah. Um, I don't know. I love writing from different time periods. I feel like his writing is very romantic in a way. It's sensual, idealized too, yeah. And it sort of encapsulates the human experience. And I really like how contemporary it feels despite it being such old writing. Like, humans haven't really changed all that much, deep inside.

M: No, he's a good poet, it is just as a person that he's kind of sketchy.

H: Yeah. Yeah, I haven't looked as much into, like, his actual historical background, because I'm more focused on just sort of his writing techniques and what I can pick up from it.

M: I mean, honestly, as you should be, because he was a bit racist. But just taking from all the sources that you can get, as a poet he's such a good resource to have. Are you interested in following in his literary footsteps? Is writing about nature more your style, or are you more into capturing human emotion?

H: Definitely marrying both together. Like, I don't want to get too focused or caught up on just one writer. Sort of like Finch has been advising, I want to have many sources to take inspiration from, to just sort of have so many different voices to speak through me, but with Whitman’s attention to detail, with nature, and sort of like, being human, that's definitely a quality associated with Whitman. He's not going to be like my spiritual mentor or anything. He's just going to be another chapter in my book of inspirations.

M: Nice. We know Whitman's huge on nature, but what made you choose this subject matter for your poem?

H: Well, like, the day before I wrote it, I visited Windsor Lake and it was a very cloudy, wanting to rain day. It was very overcast. And I just sort of walked around, and I was a little in my feelings, as one does. I don't know, I just wanted to sort of like capture that moment, and those feelings, sort of beyond what I was actually doing. I wanted to give voice to this ephemeral moment, and with the poem it's a voice reaching out, it's wanting a response, it's being the writer. But simultaneously yearning to be the means.

M: You kind of described the process of your writing already, but did you have struggles with it? How did you go about it?

H: I definitely did struggle a bit. Especially starting a poem. Starting is so scary. But once I got into it, I just had some of Whitman's poetry up, and I was taking direct inspiration. I was so with his form, like, these are the words that he repeats. I noticed the title of his poem was also the first line of his poem. That's what I did with mine, because I wanted to capture that voice. I noticed that he does a lot of listing. So I was like, I'll try that. I'll see how that feels. And then repetition. Which is something that I've sort of like strayed away from in the past, because I'm felt like every line should feel fresh and new. But I realized that there can be a lot of power in repetition, and the sort of emphasis that certain words are given. Yeah. Yeah, it's crazy. I just really took my time with one of his pieces, and tried to not copy it, but I kind of did.

M: No, it very much felt like it could have been Whitman.

H: Yeah, I find that copying is such an excellent way of, of improving and gathering your own arsenal of techniques. Like, it's sort of similar with what I do with art. One of my bigger assignments that I've done in art classes was a master copy of one of Da Vinci's sketches. Meticulously copying it, getting the anatomy correct, all of the perfect scale, and learning how he gets each of those strokes to create a muscle in the back. I find that those techniques for writing and art both go hand in hand.

M: That's so cool! Final question: Can you explain the process of how you created your Whitman art piece?

H: I try to dabble in everything, but digital art is definitely one of my first loves when it comes to visual art making. So basically, I wanted to do something a little strange. I knew I wanted to include sort of like, a landscape background. I knew that's essential because this poem is a landscape. But I also wanted to include the symbolism of the heron. Herons stand out to me. I don't know why I've been sort of fixated on them and including them in my writing. So I wanted that to be a main figure. Along with a self portrait of sorts involved.

M: I love how the heron's eye lines up with your other eye. That's so cool.

H: Exactly. I wanted to layer them on top of each other and sort of have this strange liminal feeling to it while also being tranquil. It's uncannily comforting.

M: But it's also like you mentioned that it was going to rain. You very much expressed that in the color palette that you chose.

H: A sort of muted combination of dull oranges and blues. Blending the cool and the warmth together.

M: I was going to say that I thought it was cool that you mostly used cool colors, but you picked like one warm color to make the highlights.

H: Yeah, I love that sort of contrast. Makes it very visually appealing.

M: I mean, overall, it was amazing. Both the poem and your art is amazing.

Wind Carry me Across Lake

By Hailey Rolon

A poem inspired by the prose of Walt Whitman


Wind carry me across lake,

Spreading expanse of water in the eastern sky,

Lift me, bring me this coastal autumn.

Coastal autumn, mist line sing to me,

Lone star, polaris sailing the heavens,

Heron of greater blue follows.


In the gap between pine and cedar, where the rudbeckia hirta stare,

With dark eyes and curled golden blossoms,

With tall, delicate claws of rich green,

With heads turned toward the evening shade,

With droplets dripped heavy on ribbed leaflet and bumble’s feeding,

Your neck I think of when I harvest.


In the nearshore,

Black eyed susan watches.

My throat forgot the song,

A carried lilt that licks the tongue,

Here, cloud that passes,

Mist line sing to me.


Is it me you think of when you are alone?

And where will you be when I remember our song?

And how will I know it is you I sing for?

Lake water laps onto shore,

Blown from northern winds, whistled between browning sycamore,

This is the sound my breath makes for you, (even when you are gone,)

In comforting, with a voice of limitless dusk.


I cease in my standing,

Passing the evergreen boughs of leafless ilex,

Passing the fox’s tail, passing,

My time passes ceaslessly beneath these menacing mountains,

O towering terrors, past polaris,

A low wailing escapes the eastern bird, heron passes,

And the low trill of my own wanting,

Soul wanting to pass.


Now while I wail in wait, (soon to depart,)

In the breaking of day and birth of moonlight, (frogs and cranberries, it must be fall,)

In this waiting I watch many lake-tides, (following the grey pockets of storms,)

In the conscious beauty of both pain and suffering, (how my fingers throb,)

In the abundant bowl of the berkshires, (land of lakes and forest,)

Through this swath of cattails and rudbeckia, and listening to her song,

I wait for your call, a verse from you is what I want.

A singer so shy you are,

Even in chant I cannot hear you.


Is it you whom I love?

Is it you whom I’ve learned to sing for?

Is it your being that brings me here?

Flower necks soften between my thumb and finger, fresh and moist,

And I saw the heron rise above the gliding mist,

I saw her carry through the panorama of my vision, my breathless soul.

Kiss me wind,

Carry me with your feathered gust across this lake,

This spreading expanse of mine, (our form will return,)

Me and mine, glisten across this long calm,

Whatever our song might be, (I am still remembering,)

A verse from you is all I want.

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