The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Leaves of Grass’

Troubler of the House

July 21, 2016 | by

The McLean Asylum for the Insane.

McLean Asylum for the Insane.

On September 14, 1838, the precociously gifted twenty-three-year-old poet Jones Very was removed under mysterious circumstances from his post as a Greek tutor at Harvard. The previous day, he had visited the Unitarian minister Henry Ware Jr., a prominent opponent of the radical new school of religious thought associated with Very’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and his Concord-based intellectual circle. Unprompted, Very started reciting a heated, controversial commentary on the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. “To Mr. Ware’s objections,” his fellow divinity student George Moore would later relate, 

he said he was willing to yield, but that the spirit would not let him—that this revelation had been made to him, and that what he said was eternal truth—that he had fully given up his own will, and now only did the will of the Father—that it was the father who was speaking thro’ him. He thinks himself divinely inspired, and says that Christ’s second coming is in him. 

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Songs of Myself

June 28, 2016 | by

Hosting a national blurb contest.


Walt Whitman, the “American bard,” who was named after a shopping mall in Huntington, New York, where I grew up, is often credited with having invented the book blurb. On the spine of his debut, Leaves of Grass, he had printed in gold leaf a line teased from a letter he’d gotten from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” Emerson was right: Whitman continues to rank among America’s finest careerists.

Gertrude Stein, unable to break through to the literary mainstream, wrote herself a novel-length blurb entitled The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Writing as Alice, her live-in companion, she described at length Gertrude’s prodigious, if misunderstood, genius. This 252-page press kit was an immediate best seller, prompting Stein to embark on a national tour, which she described in Everybody’s Autobiography, a sequel explaining why you should hire her for speaking engagements.

Ernest Hemingway’s first short-story collection, In Our Time, was published with no fewer than six blurbs—on the cover. I can’t remember if he won the Nobel before or after he finished taping the beer commercials. With Toni Morrison, it was definitely before: Pulitzer, Nobel, Chipotle wrapper, in that order.

Will my novels secure my literary legacy the way Morrison’s and Hemingway’s did theirs? Will I ever see my name engraved on a line of high-quality toilets, I sometimes wonder, after hours of furious literary labor? Will I be immortal, like Whitman, transcending with my “song” the conventional boundaries of self? Will Kohler, the premier name in luxury flushing, ever ask me to be their spokeswoman? Read More »

The Illustrated Walt Whitman

May 8, 2014 | by


Beautiful/Decay has a striking selection of images from Allen Crawford’s illustrated, hand-lettered new edition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” a long poem included in Leaves of Grass. Crawford writes in the introduction,

I’ve tried to make the vigor of “Song of Myself” tangible. I’ve attempted to liberate the words from their blocks of verse, and allow the lines to flow freely about the page, like a stream or a bustling city crowd. The text and imagery in this book are intended to be in keeping with Whitman’s unfurnished sensibility … Whitman’s verse concerns itself with epic sweeps and grand gestures, which means including nearly everything and everyone. Walt did indeed contain multitudes, and I had to follow his lead if I was going to properly serve his words. At times, this could prove exasperating: Keeping up with Whitman’s torrents of people and places sometimes felt like riding a bee-stung bison down the aisle of a bus. I found that in order to add anything at all to Whitman’s panorama of people and places, I had to add a dimension of my own. Events in my daily life affected my approach to each spread, and the Philadelphia of today seeped into the Philadelphia of Whitman’s day. Thus, you’ll find a variety of contemporary or near-contemporary images in this book. Not doing so would have been a disservice to Whitman’s work, which attempts to create a new form of verse for The Here and The Now.

You can see more of his work here.



On Not Letting Go

October 6, 2011 | by

"Notebook on an Intended Dictionary." Bound manuscript written on wrappers from the 1855 edition of 'Leaves of Grass.' Courtesy The Library of Congress.

Probably no writer ever finishes a book without wishing he could keep it to himself. For one thing, a book is company, during the writing of it; it’s hard to accept its departure. For another, a book is never free of flaws, its author being human. Poets have long been able to console themselves for the loss and the exposure by revising and republishing. Thus Whitman expanded, aggrandized, and eventually bloated Leaves of Grass; thus Wordsworth enlarged upon and finally diluted The Prelude. Some writers of fiction, too, have indulged themselves. Henry James returned to his early prose to render it more ineffable. Raymond Carver restored some of the fullness that a charismatic editor had cut from his early stories. Read More »

A Tiny Republic; Golden Eras

September 9, 2011 | by

Why is it that when I ask people in Los Angeles if they have heard of The Paris Review, they either know exactly what I am talking about or look at me with utter confusion?
—Susan, Los Angeles

Funny, the same thing happens back East. The fact is, for all its influence over the decades, The Paris Review has never had more than 20,000 subscribers at a time. Usually a lot fewer. On the other hand, last year we did a survey (not scientific, but not not scientific) and discovered that our subscribers tend to read the magazine from cover to cover. If you know the magazine, you generally know it cold. And you stand a passable chance of being a writer, or agent, or editor, or critic yourself. So, in the republic of letters, the Review is unavoidable, but that republic is tiny. (If you told most book-lovers that one single little magazine had published the first major stories of Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, and David Foster Wallace, very few would believe you. Which is to say, if The Paris Review didn't exist, no one would think to invent it.)

Plus, here we are, a quarterly published in English, in New York City, named after a city in France. A review that runs no reviews—only interviews. A fiction and poetry magazine whose founding editor was America’s most famous sportswriter, performance artist, and fireworks technician.

What’s not to be confused?

I just belatedly saw Midnight in Paris this weekend (I know, I know ... ). As Gil Pender puts it for 1920s Paris, what would be your “Golden Era” (if an enchanted vintage car could take you there)?
—S. Margaretta

Do you believe in golden eras? Was the sky any bluer when Hemingway wrote the last sentence of The Sun Also Rises? Later, of course, he looked back on that time with yearning, and his nostalgia is contagious: he and his friends had been young. And a few of them happened to write great novels in their youth. On the other hand, they saw the world as a ruin: the real world, the world they had looked to inherit, was destroyed in the war, never to be recovered. As for Paris, the great moment of art and literature in Paris had ended a decade before they got there.

I skipped the movie, but I saw the trailer, and I know the feeling—either you admit that Paris makes you nostalgic or you pretend you are someplace else. I’ve felt the same way in Kansas City. I feel it all the time in New York. The sight of Diane Keaton smoking a cigarette, banging on a typewriter, with a telephone—a real telephone—clamped against her ear fills me with longing more acute than any picture of Le Dôme. And it’s not because I prefer Woody Allen’s older movies, or because I do love the novels of the seventies, but because it all happened just about the time I was born and things started falling apart. Read More »