Whitman and his line: “a call in the midst of a crowd”
“The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.”
With these words from the preface, and the lines of poetry that follow and comprise Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman sought to relate and celebrate the self – our individual “poetical nature” – and the community – the plurality of identities and individualities living together in one “United States”.
First published in 1855, Leaves of Grass is radical in its attempt to relate intimately – spiritually, sensually, politically – to its readers and to elicit profound and active responses.
The democratic struggle of Leaves of Grass is evident within the text itself; but it is also animates the spirt of American poetry - the “American bards” - in Whitman’s wake.
During this course, we will read, analyze and discuss some of Whitman’s work; we will then turn to Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Sharon Olds, A.R. Ammons and others who respond to and reinterpret some of Whitman’s major themes in their own “perfect personal candor”.
And in this same tradition, the course will also focus on its own poetic expression: students will work on their use of candor in the English language. We will build on our vocabulary and style, write poems, perform them, speak aloud and create – in short, we will revel in the “brawny”, “limber” and “full” “American expression” of the English language!
The poems we read, as well as the poems we create, will also lead us to question our categories, our norms, our historical and political thought… and so, in response to Whitman’s call, we will engage one another in lively discussion and debate a wide array of themes throughout our time together.