Thursday, May 31, 2018
Happy Birthday Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman would be 199 today if he were alive, yet he's still going strong. Considered to be one of the all-time “greats” in American poetry, Walt self-published Leaves of Grass in 1855 with only a dozen poems! Over the years, however, he added to the collection, continuing also to publish each edition of the book himself.
Those poems and others have been republished along with his prose in the book shown below, providing a comprehensive look at his work, which has subsequently been published by numerous presses over the years, no doubt contributing to the belief that poets become more famous after their deaths! The question, though, is why. Why do people - including those who seldom read poetry - keep on buying and reading Walt’s books?
From the start, the poet's perennially favored poems drew readers because of their generosity of line and spirit.
In a time when most poets still wrote in traditional metered forms and perhaps even tried to outdo each other with wit and word plays, Walt’s loosened lines sprawled across the page in a new formless form, akin to conversation.
More important, the contents included, acknowledged, and empathized with almost everyone, leaving readers with the assurance of being seen.
This generosity of spirit and inclusiveness speaks to us especially in a time when mean-spiritedness, prejudice, and social exclusiveness seem to prevail.
As poets and people, we have much to learn from Walt. For those of us who are uptight or write tight, his poetry can show us how to loosen up!
In the following, however, I wrote a prose poem aka concise paragraph poem after seeing a man who reminded me of photos of Walt.
Leaving Walt at the Mall
Coming out of Dunkin’ Donut, I walked right by
Walt Whitman without even speaking. You know
how he likes to include everyone in a conversation
and so can go on a bit, but I just wanted to get
home before my caffeine let down. Later I felt
bad about giving him nothing more than a nod,
especially since I’m sure his driver’s license
expired long ago. He’s been gone for over 100
years now and was almost that old when he died,
so I could have at least offered him a ride some-
where, but he might not have liked being confined
to this little boxcar of a poem.
by Mary Harwell Sayler
Whitman: poetry and prose, hardback