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In Praise of Mess

Richard Poirier: Walt Whitman

4 June 1998
With Walt Whitman​ in Camden. Vol. VIII: 11 February 1891-30 September 1891 
by Horace Traubel, edited by Jeanne Chapman and Robert MacIsaac.
Bentley, 624 pp., $99.50, November 1996, 0 9653415 8 5
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With Walt Whitman​ in Camden. Vol. IX: 11 February 1891-30 September 1891 
by Horace Traubel, edited by Jeanne Chapman and Robert MacIsaac.
Bentley, 624 pp., £99.50, November 1996, 0 9653415 9 3
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... With the publication of Volumes VIII and IX, some ninety years after the appearance in 1906 of the first volume, all two and a half million words of Horace Traubel’s WaltWhitman in Camden are now in print. Altogether the volumes cover the last four years of Whitman’s life, from 1888 to 1892, and consist of nearly day by day renditions of Whitman’s conversations ...
15 April 2004
... Though unmarried I have had six children’ WaltWhitman The first woman I ever got with child wore calico In Carolina. She was hoeing beans; as a languorous breeze I caressed her loins, until her hoe lay abandoned in the furrow. The second was braving the ...


Ben Lerner: On Disliking Poetry

17 June 2015
... had. He doesn’t have to do much more than glance at a website to realise Elizabeth Alexander isn’t up to the task: she is, after all, writing actual poems. ‘I am large, I contain multitudes,’ WaltWhitman wrote in ‘Song of Myself’, and Packer’s nostalgia – as with many American nostalgists – is clearly shaped by the figure of Whitman, who desired his book, Leaves of Grass, to be a ...

Creases and Flecks

Laura Quinney: Mark Doty

3 October 2002
Still Life with Oysters and Lemon 
by Mark Doty.
Beacon, 72 pp., $11, January 2002, 0 8070 6609 5
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by Mark Doty.
Cape, 69 pp., £8, April 2002, 9780224062282
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... titles, with their deferential borrowings from other poets, illustrate the blandness of his language and sentiment: ‘At the Gym’, ‘Lost in the Stars’, ‘Manhattan: Luminism’, ‘Letter to WaltWhitman’ (alluding to Auden’s ‘Letter to Lord Byron’), ‘Paul’s Tattoo’ (alluding to ‘Tattoos’ in James Merrill’s sequence ‘Peter’), ‘An Island Sheaf’ (alluding to Hart ...

Manly Love

John Bayley

28 January 1993
Walt WhitmanFrom Moon to Starry Night 
by Philip Callow.
Allison and Busby, 394 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 85031 908 0
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The Double Life of Stephen Crane 
by Christopher Benfey.
Deutsch, 294 pp., £17.99, February 1993, 0 233 98820 3
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... Demurely feline himself, and also the blandest of experts at suggesting but never revealing his own private life, the English writer Edmund Gosse enthused on the resemblance of the aged WaltWhitman to ‘a great old Angora Tom’. The marvellous old poet, with his soft white hair and snowy silken ruff of beard, would have been delighted by the compliment. Philip Callow’s book is the most ...


Jacqueline Rose: ‘Specimen Days’

22 September 2005
Specimen Days 
by Michael Cunningham.
Fourth Estate, 308 pp., £14.99, August 2005, 0 00 715605 7
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... or apparent motive, goes up to a stranger in Central Park, embraces him and explodes. He is part of a cell, or ‘family’, of drifting boys taken up by an old woman who goes by the name of WaltWhitman – whose poetry they all cite and whose vision they share. ‘Nobody really dies. We go into the grass. We go into the trees.’ ‘Of your real body and any man’s or woman’s real body ...

Petty Grotesques

Mark Ford: Whitman

17 March 2011
Democratic Vistas 
by Walt Whitman, edited by Ed Folsom.
Iowa, 143 pp., $24.95, April 2010, 978 1 58729 870 7
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... as they had on the plantations of the South. Carlyle’s article appeared not only in the magazine Macmillan’s in Britain, where it caused an immediate furore, but in various American papers. WaltWhitman read it in the New York Tribune of 16 August. ‘Carlyle always stirs me to the deeps,’ Whitman observed late in life in a conversation with Horace Traubel, and he was soon planning a response to ...

Two Poems

John Hartley Williams

7 September 2006
... day’. But how can a day ‘intend’? The lines of this intentional poem have all been justified rightwards – and at the end, some happy thoughts occur to our laureate about great poets: Basho, WaltWhitman, Ernest Snaffleburger, Czeslaw Milos, Rilke. Those are his heroes (except for Snaffleburger, I just put that in to see if you read this far). Now, Ernest had none of Basho’s brevity, none ...

Icicles by Cynthia

Clarence Brown

21 March 1996
The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov.
Knopf, 659 pp., $35, October 1995, 0 394 58615 8
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... That Plato was by nature a short-story writer, not a novelist, seems clear. WaltWhitman was a novelist, Chopin a writer of short stories. Michelangelo was a novelist, Picasso a writer of short stories. Whatever the medium, most artists would seem to favour a breathing period that is ...

Sexual Politics

Michael Neve

5 February 1981
Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship 
by Chushichi Tsuzuki.
Cambridge, 237 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 521 23371 2
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... of Moral Philosophy and proponent of Christian Socialism. Carpenter was also friendly with Henry Fawcett and the mathematician W.K. Clifford (not R.K., as Tsuzuki has it); he also began reading WaltWhitman. After journeying to Italy, and experiencing with Whitman’s verse a whole array of new thoughts (and new doubts), Carpenter came to find the intellectual life of the university ‘a fraud and a ...

Strawberries in December

Paul Laity: She Radicals

29 March 2017
Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers and Radicals in Britain and the United States 
by Sheila Rowbotham.
Verso, 512 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 1 78478 588 8
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... Bristol Socialist Society, a body that aspired to ‘the attainment of the higher ideals of life’ regardless of class or sex. Its members met in coffee houses, read from their favourite poets – Whitman, Shelley, William Morris – and listened to ‘rousing glees’; Carpenter was one of their most popular speakers. The two women were swept up in the ‘new unionism’ that energised British ...


Robert Crawford

3 October 1996
The Poems of Ossian and Related Works 
by James Macpherson, edited by Howard Gaskill.
Edinburgh, 573 pp., £16.95, January 1996, 0 7486 0707 2
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... with the beam of the west? Whose voice is that, loud as the wind, but pleasant as the harp of Carry1?’ To these questions from the fourth fragment, I’m tempted to answer that the voice is that of WaltWhitman, the great self-styled ‘bard’ who classed Ossian with the Bible, and who thought that Red Jacket, one of the great Iroquois orators, was ‘like one of Ossian’s ghosts’. Whitman grew ...

Poetry to Thrill an Oyster

Gregory Woods: Fitz-Greene Halleck

16 November 2000
The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck 
by John W.M. Hallock.
Wisconsin, 226 pp., £14.95, April 2000, 0 299 16804 2
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... year-old, ‘not fond of early rising’. Other than the friendship with Drake and the occasional moment of apparent homoeroticism in the verse, nothing in Halleck’s life and career (unlike, say, Whitman’s or Melville’s) is particularly helpful to the reader who wants to reconstruct him as a gay writer. As a consequence, the over-extended effort of Hallock’s critical approach gives rise to ...

Royal Americans

D.A.N. Jones

4 October 1984
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 657 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 434 83077 1
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Stars and Bars 
by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 255 pp., £8.50, September 1984, 0 241 11343 1
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... Lincoln’s almost physical need for laughter. In his self-restraint, Gore Vidal does not even make a great scene of the killing. The rage of Lincoln’s adherents has been vividly described by WaltWhitman, with the cry of ‘Murder!’ ringing through the playhouse, the white-faced widow shouting in her box, the silly-looking theatregoers rushing on stage: ‘a dense and motley crowd, like some ...
19 October 1995
Bret Harte: Selected Stories and Sketches 
by David Wyatt.
Oxford, 332 pp., £5.99, February 1995, 9780192823540
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... order to abandon the genteel tradition, for they have nothing solid to put in its place. Santayana goes on to nominate two other figures who rebelled significantly against the genteel tradition – WaltWhitman (‘the revolt of the Bohemian temperament, with its poetry of crude naturalism’), and William James (‘an impassioned empiricism ... declaring the universe to be wild and young’). The ...

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