Despite my best intentions, I am always sending belated birthday cards, so it stands to reason I’m posting this a day later than I planned. Yesterday was the birthday of one of the most fascinating and admirable literary figures in American history, Walt Whitman. This year also marks the 150th anniversary of his monumental Leaves of Grass — a do-it-yourself project if there ever was one. In light of this milestone and the significance of what this seemingly unassuming volume did to inspire readers and writers —
and the trajectory of literature that followed, there have been many celebrations of Whitman and his legacy this year. Special events at literary festivals, readings and libraries have attempted to capture the Whitman magic for established fans and new readers alike.
The Library of Congress recently opened a new exhibit which includes artifacts and items provided by Whitman’s heirs and collectors. You can also see a portion of this exhibit online — a collection of four notebooks and a cardboard butterfly. New York and DC have also hosted walking tours of their respective Walt haunts and landmarks. The University of Iowa Press has a great offering of books on Whitman, most notably a collection titled Visiting Walt, which is an anthology of poetry about and inspired by Whitman.
Lastly, I want to mention a nice volume I picked up recently — the Spring 2005 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review. The VQR devotes the entire issue to Whitman, featuring essays from Robert Creeley, Robert Bly and Sam Hamill, as well as observations on the cultural influence of Whitman’s life and work — not to mention a lot of great photos. If your bookstore doesn’t carry it, you can visit The Virginia Quarterly Review online to order a copy or to read a few excerpts from this issue.
So, happy belated birthday to “the Good Gray Poet” and here’s to 150 more years of Leaves of Grass.