I thought this would be a good opener to National Poetry Month. Whitman is to American poetry what Mark Twain is to American novels. What Chaucer is to English poetry. What Camus is to French neurotic philosophy. What Cervantes… yeah, okay. Point made. The version in the pic is from the Barnes & Noble Collector’s Library. It’s even got a ribbon book marker. How genteel.
The more I read through this book, the more similarities I see between Whitman’s poetic style and the poems of Allan Ginsberg. The labyrinthine sentences bundled up into chunky stanzas, the rhythmic repetitions and jazzy, zig-zaggy time signatures of HOWL, A SUPERMARKET IN CALIFORNIA, and SUNFLOWER SUTRA, just to name a couple. In fact, Ginsberg mentions Whitman in line one of ASiC. How exciting to consider that if it hadn’t been for Whitman, some important Beat poetry might not have happened when it did. We might have had to wait another generation or two, and it might have ended up being “Grunge” poetry. Like their music isn’t depressing enough. haha.
This post is categorized as “Portable Feasts” because this volume is a wallet-sized book with teeny, “eye-strain-o-vision” print. How tiny is the print? The 4x6x2 inch tome-let contains over 200 poems. Long ones, short ones, popular ones. Obscure ones. Well done, Barnes & Noble, you “marketing bonanza” you! Whitman gets a lot of stick for his rambling. But he strikes me as a person who was very sensitive to nature and loved being out of doors. Also, I’m Catholic enough to appreciate the structure of a poem like “Pent-up Aching Rivers” with its litany of “Froms”. Several poems are designed as litanies to the outdoors and the human spirit. It’s overwhelming how observant Whitman was. Nothing got past him. What I especially love about his work is that he’s not just an observer and reporter of objects, he’s an observer of transitions. He’s incredible. So much of his poetry is so broad in scope – like a Bierstadt painting…and then there’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”. Like I said, nothing gets past him.
The volume has an afterword by, I assume, the editors who compiled this. I was happy to read that the editors’ take on Whitman’s influences is not far removed from my own observations. Then there’s an index of titles, an index of opening lines, a biography so compact, it’s a wonder they even bothered, and a quite good blurb on the slipcover.
Poem Flow By TextTelevision, Inc – download poetry to read on your iPhone.
Sponsors for Natl. Poetry Month
TEACHERS: CLICK ON THE POSTER TO ORDER A FREE ONE FOR YOUR CLASSROOM. THE POSTER IS ALSO IN THE MOST RECENT ISSUE OF NCTE’S ENGLISH JOURNAL.