"Tyler Hoffman brings a fresh perspective to the subject of performance poetry, and this comes at an excellent time, when there is such a vast interest across the country and around the world in the performance of poetry. He makes important connections, explaining things in a manner that remains provocative, interesting, and accessible."
---Jay Parini, Middlebury College
American Poetry in Performance: From Walt Whitman to Hip Hop is the first book to trace a comprehensive history of performance poetry in America, covering 150 years of literary history from Walt Whitman through the rap-meets-poetry scene. It reveals how the performance of poetry is bound up with the performance of identity and nationality in the modern period and carries its own shifting cultural politics. This book stands at the crossroads of the humanities and the social sciences; it is a book of literary and cultural criticism that deals squarely with issues of "performance," a concept that has attained great importance in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology and has generated its own distinct field of performance studies. American Poetry in Performance will be a meaningful contribution both to the field of American poetry studies and to the fields of cultural and performance studies, as it focuses on poetry that refuses the status of fixed aesthetic object and, in its variability, performs versions of race, class, gender, and sexuality both on and off the page.
Relating the performance of poetry to shifting political and cultural ideologies in the United States, Hoffman argues that the vocal aspect of public poetry possesses (or has been imagined to possess) the ability to help construct both national and subaltern communities. American Poetry in Performance explores public poets' confrontations with emergent sound recording and communications technologies as those confrontations shape their mythologies of the spoken word and their corresponding notions about America and Americanness.
Of all American poets, Whitman remains the single most challenging figure. Protean and elusive, Whitman is everywhere and nowhere at once. An unavoidable presence, he still arouses anger, envy, love, and debate one hundred years after his death. To honor his anniversary, Robert Martin has invited the most invigorating and innovative of Whitman’s new readers and critics to respond not to Whitman’s death but to his continuing life as it has marked their own lives and writings. The eighteen essays gathered in this volume testify to the powerful multiple responses that Whitman continues to evoke. They recreate another Whitman perhaps more real than the one we thought we knew.
The “continuing presence” that Whitman’s readers have created is as diverse as those readers themselves. But he is, as he promised, everywhere: “Missing me one place search another / I stop somewhere waiting for you.” The central figure of American poetic history, he has been a formative presence in the work of black writers in America and Europe, in the development of women’s poetry that has learned from him to celebrate the body, and of course in the emergence of the gay literary tradition, all of which can be linked to movements of political change. Whitman helped make it possible to be a black poet, a female poet, or a gay poet, partly because he saw himself not as a model but as an enabler. He still continues to challenge our assessment of our sexuality and the ways we organize it. Martin’s collection is particularly strong on the investigation of Whitman’s homosexuality, his homotexuality, and his influence on gay writers and will clearly become the most aggregative gathering of essays ever published on this increasingly prominent aspect of Whitman and his work.
The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman seeks to be an intervention and not merely a reflection; it is intended to illuminate a response that continues to take place, a constant invention and reinvention, a writing and rewriting that echo Whitman’s own text of Leaves of Grass. Whitman remains an originating force. Once read, he will not go away.
Now, nearly forty years after its original translation into English, Roger Asselineau's complete and magisterial biography of Walt Whitman will remind readers of the complex weave of traditions in Whitman scholarship. It is startling to recognize how much of our current understanding of Whitman was already articulated by Asselineau nearly half a century ago. Throughout its eight hundred pages, The Evolution of Walt Whitman speaks with authority on a vast range of topics that define both Whitman the man and Whitman the mythical personage. Remarkably, most of these discussions remain fresh and relevant, and that is in part because they have been so influential.
In particular, The Evolution of Walt Whitman inaugurated the study of Leaves of Grass as a lifelong work in progress, and it marked the end of the habit of talking about Leaves as if it were a single unified book. Asselineau saw Whitman's poetry “not as a body of static data but as a constantly changing continuum whose evolution must be carefully observed.” Throughout Evolution, Asselineau placed himself in the role of the observer, analyzing Whitman's development with a kind of scientific detachment. But behind this objective persona burned the soul of a risk taker who was willing to rewrite Whitman studies by bravely proposing what was then a controversial biographical source for Whitman's art—his homosexual desires.
The Evolution of Walt Whitman is a reminder that extraordinary works of criticism never exist in and of themselves. In this expanded edition, Roger Asselineau has provided a new essay summarizing his own continuing journey with Whitman. A foreword by Ed Folsom, editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly, regards Evolution as the genesis of contemporary Whitman studies.
In influx & efflux Jane Bennett pursues a question that was bracketed in her book Vibrant Matter: how to think about human agency in a world teeming with powerful nonhuman influences? “Influx & efflux”—a phrase borrowed from Whitman's "Song of Myself"—refers to everyday movements whereby outside influences enter bodies, infuse and confuse their organization, and then exit, themselves having been transformed into something new. How to describe the human efforts involved in that process? What kinds of “I” and “we” can live well and act effectively in a world of so many other lively materialities? Drawing upon Whitman, Thoreau, Caillois, Whitehead, and other poetic writers, Bennett links a nonanthropocentric model of self to a radically egalitarian pluralism and also to a syntax and style of writing appropriate to the entangled world in which we live. The book tries to enact the uncanny process by which we “write up” influences that pervade, enable, and disrupt us.
There has never been an edition of the selected letters of Walt Whitman, a remarkable fact considering how accustomed we are to becoming acquainted with major writers through their letters. Now Edwin Haviland Miller, editor of the six-volume collected writings of Whitman, has used his intimate knowledge of the "good gray poet's" correspondence to produce this revealing selection of 250 letters, introduced and annotated concisely and evocatively. Whitman in these letters is simple, direct, colloquial, adding a counterpoint to his artistic voice and persona as a poet.
In the midst of a crisis of democracy, we have much to learn from Walt Whitman’s journey toward egalitarian selfhood.
Walt Whitman knew a great deal about democracy that we don’t. Most of that knowledge is concentrated in one stunning poem, Song of Myself.
Esteemed cultural and literary thinker Mark Edmundson offers a bold reading of the 1855 poem, included here in its entirety. He finds in the poem the genesis and development of a democratic spirit, for the individual and the nation. Whitman broke from past literature that he saw as “feudal”: obsessed with the noble and great. He wanted instead to celebrate the common and everyday. Song of Myself does this, setting the terms for democratic identity and culture in America. The work captures the drama of becoming an egalitarian individual, as the poet ascends to knowledge and happiness by confronting and overcoming the major obstacles to democratic selfhood. In the course of his journey, the poet addresses God and Jesus, body and soul, the love of kings, the fear of the poor, and the fear of death. The poet’s consciousness enlarges; he can see more, comprehend more, and he has more to teach.
In Edmundson’s account, Whitman’s great poem does not end with its last line. Seven years after the poem was published, Whitman went to work in hospitals, where he attended to the Civil War’s wounded, sick, and dying. He thus became in life the democratic individual he had prophesied in art. Even now, that prophecy gives us words, thoughts, and feelings to feed the democratic spirit of self and nation.
Focusing on actual publications by Whitman rather than those about him, Joel Myerson’s painstakingly compiled supplement to his 1993 Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography (Oak Knoll, ISBN 0-82293-739-5) includes almost twenty years of newly discovered and updated materials that will be invaluable to Whitman scholars. The entries describe in detail the various forms of Whitman’s books, newspaper articles, broadsheets, reprints, translations, and so on. Myerson includes facsimiles of title pages as well as information on pagination, illustrations, dimensions, contents, publication history, typography, paper, binding, and dust jackets.
The sections incorporate the following: all books and pamphlets written wholly by Whitman through 1892, the year of his death, and all editions and reprintings in English through 2009; all collected editions of Whitman’s writings through 2009; all miscellaneous collections of his writings through 2009; all books in which material by Whitman appears for the first time; all first American and English publications in newspapers and magazines of material by Whitman through 2009; all proof copies as well as circulars and broadsides of his poetry and prose published during his lifetime; prose and poetry by Whitman reprinted in books and pamphlets through 1892; separate publications of individual poems and prose works through 2009; and references to possible publications by Whitman that are not dealt with elsewhere in the bibliography. The volume is thoroughly indexed.
Based on evidence gathered from personal inspection of multiple copies of Whitman’s works in American, Canadian, British, and New Zealand libraries, Myerson’s Supplement exemplifies the highest standards of bibliographic research.
Ceniza provides a dramatic rereading of Walt Whitman's poetry through the lens of 19th-century feminist culture.
Walt Whitman and 19th-Century Women Reformers documents Whitman's friendships with women during the 1850s, the decade of Whitman's most creative period. The book reveals startling connections between the Þrst three editions of Leaves of Grass and the texts generated by the women he knew during this period, many of whom were radical activists in the women's rights movement.
Sherry Ceniza argues that Whitman's editions of Leaves became progressively more radically 'feminist' as he followed the women's rights movement during the 1850s and that he was influenced by what he called the 'true woman of the new aggressive type . . . woman under the new dispensation.' Ceniza documents the progression of the National Woman's Rights movement through the lives and writings of three of its leaders- Abby Hills Price, Paulina Wright Davis, and Ernestine L. Rose. By juxtaposing the texts written by these women with Leaves, Ceniza shows that Whitman used many of the same arguments and rhetorical gestures as his female activist friends.
The book also discusses the influence of women engaged in women's rights outside the National Woman's Rights organization. And Ceniza's opening chapter is devoted to a fresh interpretation of the life and thought of another strong-minded woman who influenced the poet's writing-Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Walt Whitman's mother.
By reconsidering Whitman not as the proletarian voice of American diversity but as a historically specific poet with roots in the antebellum lower middle class, Andrew Lawson in Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle defines the tensions and ambiguities about culture, class, and politics that underlie his poetry.Drawing on a wealth of primary sources from across the range of antebellum print culture, Lawson uses close readings of Leaves of Grass to reveal Whitman as an artisan and an autodidact ambivalently balanced between his sense of the injustice of class privilege and his desire for distinction. Consciously drawing upon the languages of both the elite culture above him and the vernacular culture below him, Whitman constructed a kind of middle linguistic register that attempted to filter these conflicting strata and defuse their tensions: “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.” By exploring Whitman's internal struggle with the contradictions and tensions of his class identity, Lawson locates the source of his poetic innovation. By revealing a class-conscious and conflicted Whitman, he realigns our understanding of the poet's political identity and distinctive use of language and thus valuably alters our perspective on his poetry.
Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.
—Walt Whitman, from “This Compost”
How did Whitman use language to figure out his relationship to the earth, and how can we interpret his language to reconstruct the interplay between the poet and his sociopolitical and environmental world? In this first book-length study of Whitman’s poetry from an ecocritical perspective, Jimmie Killingsworth takes ecocriticism one step further into ecopoetics to reconsider both Whitman’s language in light of an ecological understanding of the world and the world through a close study of Whitman’s language.
Killingsworth contends that Whitman’s poetry embodies the kinds of conflicted experience and language that continually crop up in the discourse of political ecology and that an ecopoetic perspective can explicate Whitman’s feelings about his aging body, his war-torn nation, and the increasing stress on the American environment both inside and outside the urban world. He begins with a close reading of “This Compost”—Whitman’s greatest contribution to the literature of ecology,” from the 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass. He then explores personification and nature as object, as resource, and as spirit and examines manifest destiny and the globalizing impulse behind Leaves of Grass, then moves the other way, toward Whitman’s regional, even local appeal—demonstrating that he remained an island poet even as he became America’s first urban poet. After considering Whitman as an urbanizing poet, he shows how, in his final writings, Whitman tried to renew his earlier connection to nature.
Walt Whitman and the Earth reveals Whitman as a powerfully creative experimental poet and a representative figure in American culture whose struggles and impulses previewed our lives today.
Walt Whitman and the World
Gay Wilson Allen University of Iowa Press, 1995 Library of Congress PS3238.W356 1995 | Dewey Decimal 811.3
Celebrating the various ethnic traditions that melded to create what we now call American literature, Whitman did his best to encourage an international reaction to his work. But even he would have been startled by the multitude of ways in which his call has been answered. By tracking this wholehearted international response and reconceptualizing American literature, Walt Whitman and the World demonstrates how various cultures have appropriated an American writer who ceases to sound quite so narrowly American when he is read into other cultures' traditions.
In 1992, the year of the hundredth anniversary of Walt Whitman's death, a major gathering of international scholars took place at the University of Iowa. Over 150 participants heard papers by 20 of the world's most eminent critics of Whitman. Three generations of scholars offered new essays that brilliantly tracked the course of past and present Whitman scholarship. So significant was this historic celebration of the great American poet that the opening session was covered by CBS “Sunday Morning,” National Public Radio's “Morning Edition,” the New York Times, and other newspapers across the country. Musical and theatrical performances, art exhibitions, slide shows, readings, songs, and even a recently discovered recording of Whitman's voice were presented during the three days of the conference.
But the heart of the conference was this series of original essays by some of the most innovative scholars working in the field of American literature. There has ever been a more important collection of Whitman criticism. In these essays, readers will find the most suggestive recent approaches to Whitman alongside the most reliable traditional approaches. Walt Whitman: The Centennial Essays captures Whitman's energy and vitality, which have only increased in the century after his death.
In 1961 the first volume of Edwin Haviland Miller’s The Correspondence was published in the newly established series the Collected Writings of Walt Whitman. Miller proceeded to publish five additional volumes of Whitman letters, and other leading scholars, including Roger Asselineau, compiled accompanying volumes of prose, poems, and daybooks. Yet by the late 1980s, the Whitman Collected Writings project was hopelessly scattered, fragmented, and incomplete.
Now, more than forty years after the inaugural volume’s original publication, Ted Genoways brings scholars the latest volume in Walt Whitman: The Correspondence. Incorporating all of the letters Miller had collected before his death in 2001 and combining them with more than a hundred previously unknown letters he himself gathered, Genoways’s volume is a perfect accompaniment to Miller’s original work.
Among the more than one hundred fifty letters collected in this volume are numerous correspondences concerning Whitman’s Civil War years, including a letter sending John Hay, the personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln, a manuscript copy of “O Captain, My Captain!” Additional letters address various aspects of the production of Leaves of Grass, the most notable being an extensive correspondence surrounding the Deathbed Edition, gathered by Whitman’s friend Horace Traubel, and reproduced here for the first time. Most significantly, this volume at last incorporates Whitman’s early letters to Abraham Paul Leech, first published by Arthur Golden in American Literature in 1986. The revelations contained in these letters must be considered among the most important discoveries about Whitman’s life made during the last half of the twentieth century.
Regardless of whether their significance is great or small, immediate or long-term, each new piece of Whitman’s correspondence returns us to a particular moment in his life and suggests the limitless directions that remain for Whitman scholarship.
Whitman’s poetry is full of places where he directly addresses his future readers, acknowledges the time span between them, then shrugs it off. “The greatest poet,” he writes in his preface to Leaves of Grass, “places himself where the future becomes present.” By celebrating the complex legacy of Leaves of Grass, the ten essayists in this spirited collection affirm the truth of its premise: “Past and present and future are not disjoined but joined.”
Walt Whitman, Where the Future Becomes Present invigorates Whitman studies by garnering insights from a diverse group of writers and intellectuals. Writing from the perspectives of art history, political theory, creative writing, and literary criticism, the contributors place Whitman in the center of both world literature and American public life. The volume is especially notable for being the best example yet published of what the editors call the New Textuality in Whitman studies, an emergent mode of criticism that focuses on the different editions of Whitman’s poems as independent works of art.
Written one hundred fifty years after the book’s publication, these timely, innovative responses to Leaves of Grass confirm that the future of Whitman’s poems is vital to our present.