Home Books ‘Breaking Bad’ on poetry

‘Breaking Bad’ on poetry

0 95

You guys ever hear of that show “Breaking Bad?” They say the last eight episodes include bacon used to make the number “50,” an M-60, and Walter White with hair. It comes back this week. And we’re only about four weeks till the NFL kicks off. No wonder Jesus wanted us to just chill on Sundays.

While browsing YouTube videos—between tweeting and watching porn—I found this brilliant gem:

The symbolism here is quite topical. Walter is standing on the steps of a dying empire and the leader’s decline is inescapable. I won’t make predictions about where Walter’s journey will end up, but if this poem is any indication, he’s in for a helluva ride. The real laugher in all this is that Percy Shelley was actually into drugs. He loved him some opium. In fact, a lot of the Romantics enjoyed opium and 19th century essayist Thomas De Quincey actually penned a book entitled “Confessions of an Opium-Eater.”

I don’t know if doing opium makes you a badass, but Shelley’s voice in the poem is gritty, haunting, and daring—all additional reasons why Walter is the perfect orator for the masterpiece.

I started to wonder what poems lit the fire for me, produced the same sort of effect as “Ozymandias.” Too often poetry can be pansy-assed and boring, bogged down by language and unable to be deciphered and enjoyed. I get it: Poetry must be tauter than a novel, where mistakes can’t be made and words can’t be misplaced. The key, then, is separating what’s shitty and what’s great.

Subjectivity rules the roost, of course, but my opinions are, as always, superior to yours. That’s why I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite poets and a snippet of their poetry. Walter would love this list. I can imagine that Gale Boetticher would have, too. God rest his soul.

Walt Whitman

On my back shoulder I have a tattoo that reads: “I tramp a perpetual journey.” 1 Whitman is the best (English speaking) poet ever. Suck it, Williams Wordsworth and Shakespeare. If you haven’t read “Leaves of Grass,” I suggest you do so immediately. Oddly enough, Vince Gilligan used the book in “Breaking Bad” and we were left with Hank reading the inscription inside Walter’s copy in the last episode.

I think Walter would agree with these words and let me know when you words with more power:

I tramp the perpetual journey
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the 
woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public 
road.
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

Dylan Thomas

You know what drives me crazy? The way society beats the shit out of anything great until it eventually turns into a cliché. The lines “Do not go gentle into that good night./Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” spit fire only Jay Electronica could duplicate. Unfortunately these lines have been dragged through the mud. They might as well be printed on billboards for as much as it’s been recited. But there’s no denying the power of this poem. Read it out loud, as loud as you can while drinking Scotch. Thomas was an alcoholic hell-bent on self-destruction. Sounds a little like Jesse Pinkman, bitch.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Langston Hughes

Nobody is more of a hard ass on this list than Hughes. He started a revolution with his pen. This is tight poetry with an edge. I want writers with heart, writers who have something to say and aren’t afraid to have unpopular ideas. The only guy with more principle than Hughes might have been Mike Ehrmantraut. No such thing as half measures with guys like this.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Carl Sandburg

I think if Sandburg had written novels the imagery would have blown our socks off. His poem, “Chicago,” which is below, comes at you harder than a poolside Gus Fring. There aren’t many pieces of literature that encapsulate a place as well as this poem. Husky, curt, a homage to hard-work and toughness, the poem screams Chicago.       

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,

Bareheaded,
Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse,
and under his ribs the heart of the people,

Laughing!

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

John Keats

You’re probably thinking that this might be the most Nancy poem ever written. Keats might sound melodramatic and whiny, but his words came from a very dark place. He suffered from TB—which I think they called “tha consumpshun” at the time—and he had the premonition he was not meant for a long life. His poems are full of life, however, and there is nothing better than “When I have fears” to seize the day and grab life by the proverbial testicles. I could imagine Walter reading this poem just after his diagnosis and then blowing someone’s face off.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Rainer Maria Rilke 

They frame him as a “mystic” and “existentialist,” but big words aside this guy was an uncompromising master. I’ve always loved his quote “Life is always in the right.” In Thomas Pynchon‘s “Gravity’s Rainbow” Rilke plays a pivotal role. One of the novel’s major themes is survival and Rilke’s love of life and knowing that the “only journey is the one within” seems to support this theme. The poem I’ve chosen for you below is entitled “Death,” so you’ll have to forgive me for the contrast. I’m almost sure Gilligan would appreciate the irony.

“Death”

Come thou, thou last one, whom I recognize,
unbearable pain throughout this body’s fabric:
as I in my spirit burned, see, I now burn in thee:
the wood that long resisted the advancing flames
which thou kept flaring, I now am nourishinig
and burn in thee.

My gentle and mild being through thy ruthless fury
has turned into a raging hell that is not from here.
Quite pure, quite free of future planning, I mounted
the tangled funeral pyre built for my suffering,
so sure of nothing more to buy for future needs,
while in my heart the stored reserves kept silent.

Is it still I, who there past all recognition burn?
Memories I do not seize and bring inside.
O life! O living! O to be outside!
And I in flames. And no one here who knows me.

Notes:

  1. I’m well aware that the word “tramp” and its current standing in the modern parlance should’ve been off-putting; however, my love for the passage outweighed how most of the clueless masses view the world.