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On Whitman: Writers on Writers

C.K. Williams.
Publisher Princeton  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.6 inches
ISBN 9780691144726
Pages/Publication Date 187/2010
Daedalus Item Code 31826
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In this slim but insightful book, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet C.K. Williams sets aside the mass of biography and literary criticism that has accumulated around the work and person of Walt Whitman, and attempts to go back to Leaves of Grass as he first encountered it, to explore why Whitman's epic "continues to inspire and sometimes daunt" him. In brief, thematic chapters with many quotations from Leaves of Grass, Williams explores the innovations, originality, and sheer genius of the poetry that has become, as he puts it, "the unconscious" of much of the poetry of America and the world.

"Williams knows that the real meat and drink in Whitman's work lies in the poet's unprecedented assembling of rhythm, sound, language and images. He pays lavish tribute to what he refers to as Whitman's 'music,' the surge and flow of the lines; he also delights in Whitman's eye for the telling detail.... A winning book ... enlightening and often moving."—NYTBR

"This jewel of a book, by one poet on another in the Writers on Writers series, does nothing less than show that Walt Whitman is the very unconscious and Paraclete of all American poets working today. With generous quotes from Williams's hero, we see how Whitman's oracular largesse most certainly extended to the continental-inspired Pound and Eliot. Williams returns to the pure, original edition (out of nine) of Leaves of Grass for inspiration, finding the so-called deathbed edition along with all the Leaves in between lacking the first flush of musical and formal elements. Williams likewise always returns to Leaves to explore what inspires—beyond Dante, Shakespeare, and others who attract him. In 'Song of Myself,' the I and you, author and experiencer, are conflated to the point where the writer is one more of his own readers; 'Song of Myself' tellingly ends with the word you. As Williams observes, Whitman wants us not to be afraid of ourselves, even of our dark, darkest, most doubting selves. As a personal introduction to the visionary free-verse wellspring of the American poetic spirit, this book is one that no poetry lover should miss."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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