A New York Times review of a joint in Brooklyn called Henry Public thinks so.
For vinyl fans, I just found this self-consciously erotic record on eBay.
Ah, the ’70s. The eBay seller’s come-on is, “Walt Whitman’s Sex Writings – SEALED!”
You can have a listen here at the Mickle Street Review.
Starting bid only 12.00. Any takers?
On the radio the other day I learned about this huge cache of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters that’s been made available (and searchable) on the Internet.
Immediately searching for Whitman, of course, I came to this passage from an 1888 letter Van Gogh wrote to this sister:
Have you read Whitman’s American poems yet? Theo should have them, and I really urge you to read them, first because they’re really beautiful, and also, English people are talking about them a lot at the moment. He sees in the future, and even in the present, a world of health, of generous, frank carnal love — of friendship — of work, with the great starry firmament, something, in short, that one could only call God and eternity, put back in place above this world. They make you smile at first, they’re so candid, and then they make you think, for the same reason. The prayer of Christopher Columbus is very beautiful.
For an article exploring connections between the two artists, see “WHITMAN AND VAN GOGH: STARRY NIGHTS AND OTHER SIMILARITIES.”
One sad thing I notice in the Longaker is how different Whitman’s view of his own body has become, now that it’s shutting down. Here was the speaker of “Song” in 1855:
The smoke of my own breath,
|Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers . . . . loveroot, silkthread, crotch and vine,|
| My respiration and inspiration . . . . the beating of my heart . . . . the passing of blood
and air through my lungs,
| The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and darkcolored sea-
rocks, and of hay in the barn,
| The sound of the belched words of my voice . . . . words loosed to the eddies of
|A few light kisses . . . . a few embraces . . . . a reaching around of arms,|
|The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,|
|The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hillsides,|
The feeling of health . . . . the full-noon trill . . . . the song of me rising from bed
and meeting the sun.
He loves his body, but he’s just barely contained in it; from the way he talks, we’d think ourselves just as likely find him in a ray of sunlight or a duckling. So different from his awful physiological imprisonment in 1891:
My great corpus is like an old wooden log . . . One favorable item at 10, a bowel movement (the first in ten days) . . .
And so forth. He had been accused of such obscene physicality earlier on–but it’s only now that his writing really starts attending to the day-to-day life of his body, now that that body becomes his whole, urgent environment.
In a few weeks, we’ll be focusing on Whitman’s literary legacy. With that in mind, I couldn’t help being struck by this passage of the interview we read for today, in which he responds to the question “What will be the character of the American literature when it does form?”:
It will be something entirely new, entirely different. As we are a new nation with almost a new geography, and a new spirit, the expression of them will have to be new. In form, in combination we shall take the same old font of type, but what we set up will never have been set up before. It will be the same old font that Homer and Shakespeare used, but our use will be new. (15)
This understanding of the essential connection between literature and the culture that gives birth to it immediately brings to mind “Theme for English B,” a famous poem written, roughly seventy years later, by Langston Hughes. As you probably remember, most of the poem is a response to a professor’s facile assignment, “Go home and write / a page tonight. / And let that page come out of you— / Then, it will be true.” An excerpt:
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
The surface of Hughes’s poem is personal–a white English prof at a mostly-white Ivy-League school is naive if he thinks self-portraiture is a simple subject for a black student. But Whitman’s words encourage us also to take the poem as an analogy for literature itself, which will always be shaped by the social and political circumstances of the particular group that makes it.
When we speak of what makes up African-American literature, we may be referring partly to “the same old font of type”–the same basic English language–out of which our mainstream writers have constructed their works, but in order to have cultural authenticity it will have to be put to a use that mainstream readers may at first find utterly foreign. That, too, is American.
Kim Roberts, who’ll be our guide on Saturday (http://www.kimroberts.org, http://www.beltwaypoetry.com) has sent these for us: a map of our tour and an image of the haversack Whitman took on his rounds to the hospitals.
In case you haven’t yet taken a look at this, here’s a nine-minute segment that follows the Union soldiers running up to Marye’s Heights and the Confederates firing down on them from behind the stone wall.
Last week I mentioned these. The top one called “Harvest of Death” (!) is supposed to be a group of dead Confederate soldiers; the one with trees in the background Northerners. But if you look closely at the detail (flipped & zoomed) in the third frame, you realize it’s really the same group of soldiers (see esp. the one with crossed legs and a rock behind his head).
O’Sullivan worked with Matthew Brady’s protege Alexander Gardner, whose name also appears on the photos.