Had a typically wonderful time at the annual Walt Whitman Birthday Bash Thursday in Conroe. The main performer was Bruce Noll, who offers a “dramatic interpretation” of Leaves of Grass. He was very good—a true pleasure to hear the words recited, acted, not just read.
For my part art the Gathering of Poets, I read a segment from the Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass:
The American poets are to enclose old and new, for America is the race of races. Of them a bard is to be commensurate with a people. To him the other continents arrive as contributions . . . he gives them reception for their sake and his own sake. His spirit responds to his country's spirit . . . . he incarnates its geography and natural life and rivers and lakes. Mississippi with annual freshets and changing chutes, Missouri and Columbia and Ohio and Saint Lawrence with the falls and beautiful masculine Hudson, do not embouchure where they spend themselves more than they embouchure into him. The blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia and Maryland and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine and over Manhattan bay and over Champlain and Erie and over Ontario and Huron and Michigan and Superior, and over the Texan and Mexican and Floridian and Cuban seas and over the seas off California and Oregon, is not tallied by the blue breadth of the waters below more than the breadth of above and below is tallied by him. When the long Atlantic coast stretches longer and the Pacific coast stretches longer he easily stretches with them north or south. He spans between them also from east to west and reflects what is between them. On him rise solid growths that offset the growths of pine and cedar and hemlock and liveoak and locust and chestnut and cypress and hickory and limetree and cottonwood and tuliptree and cactus and wildvine and tamarind and persimmon . . . .and tangles as tangled as any canebrake or swamp . . . . and forests coated with transparent ice and icicles hanging from the boughs and crackling in the wind . . . . and sides and peaks of mountains . . . . and pasturage sweet and free as savannah or upland or prairie . . . . To him enter the essences of the real things and past and present events---. . . . For such the expression of the American poet is to be transcendent and new. It is to be indirect and not direct or descriptive or epic. Its quality goes through these to much more. Let the age and wars of other nations be chanted and their eras and characters be illustrated and that finish the verse. Not so the great psalm of the republic. Here the theme is creative and has vista.
In my literature class this past semester, some of the students (not many; a couple or so) didn't much care for Walt.
"He's a know-it-all," one student said. "He thinks he's smarter than everyone else."
"Well, sure," I said. "He's a cosmos!"
This student also thought Thoreau was a know-it-all. Oh, well....A couple of things to investigate:
Here's someone writing about the Preface
Here's Bruce Noll’s website
I drove to Conroe yesterday—drove through the much needed downpour of rain, thunder and lightning sublime!—for the annual Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration (Walt's birthday is of course the 31st, but this is Texas—we can celebrate it whenever we want). It's a great event: Lone Star College brings in Whitman experts for an afternoon lecture/discussion—this year, CK Williams—and then, in the evening, writers gather at a pub to read Whitman poems.
I read “An Old Man’s Thought of School”
An old man’s thought of School;
An old man, gathering youthful memories and blooms, that youth itself cannot.
Now only do I know you!
O fair auroral skies! O morning dew upon the grass!
And these I see—these sparkling eyes,
These stores of mystic meaning—these young lives,
Building, equipping, like a fleet of ships—immortal ships!
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the Soul’s voyage.
Only a lot of boys and girls?
Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?
Only a Public School?
Ah more—infinitely more;
(As George Fox rais’d his warning cry, “Is it this pile of brick and mortar—these dead floors, windows, rails—you call the church?
Why this is not the church at all—the Church is living, ever living Souls.”)
And you, America,
Cast you the real reckoning for your present?
The lights and shadows of your future—good or evil?
To girlhood, boyhood look—the Teacher and the School.
Drove home under clear night skies with a bit of moon up there—also sublime.
So: last week I went down to the Walt Whitman festival—“Walt Whitman’s Birthday Bash”—in Conroe, Texas. This is one of the best literary events of the year. In the afternoon they have some academics talking about WW—this year, Michael Robertson, author of Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples. Very good, especially on Oscar Wilde’s visit to WW. Then, in the evening, a pack of poets gather at the bar to read Whitman poems—Dave Parsons, Chuck Taylor, Darla McBryde, Melissa Studdard, and seventeen or so others. I read “Miracles.”Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me I know of nothing else but miracles, Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan, Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,Or stand under trees in the woods, Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, Or sit at table at dinner with the rest, Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car, Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon, Or animals feeding in the fields, Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright, Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring; These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place. To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, Every foot of the interior swarms with the same. To me the sea is a continual miracle, The fishes that swim--the rocks--the motion of the waves--the ships with men in them, What stranger miracles are there?A really good evening….Photos at Kenne Turner’s website….