The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman
"The Whitman centennial is well marked by The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman, a collection of nineteen essays, most about Whitman's eroticism, some old but most new, very well written, with a minimum of chic jargon."—American Literature
“Walt Whitman marches and dances through culture like a force of nature. Robert K. Martin now brings together a fascinating, cunning, and bold set of responses to this force. They prove that Whitman, like all great writers, is our contemporary.”—Catharine R. Stimpson
“This is a book we need. Though a hundred years have passed since Whitman’s death, it has been a century of misreadings, obscurities, and evasions. This volume shows how the best new readers of Whitman are undoing the damage and giving us back a Whitman—warts and all—whose concerns are vital to out own. The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman brilliantly exemplifies the revolution in Whitman studies now in progress, including a far more candid and sophisticated discussion of Whitman’s sexuality, poetics, and politics than we have yet had.”—Gregory Jay
“The best writing in this book has the power of journalism, pressing consciousness of Whitman into our everyday lives where his words still ‘itch at our ears’ until we understand them. Whitman is still the poet of love, sex, and disarming candor for our time, as he was for his own.”—Diane Middlebrook
“The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman makes an excellent case for the strong and widespread influence of Whitman’s poetry on a number of twentieth-century artists. This is an important book that will make a significant contribution to our understanding of Whitman and his followers.”—James E. Miller, Jr.
Of all American poets, Whitman remains the single most challenging figure. Protean and elusive, Whitman is everywhere and nowhere at once. An unavoidable presence, he still arouses anger, envy, love, and debate one hundred years after his death. To honor his anniversary, Robert Martin has invited the most invigorating and innovative of Whitman’s new readers and critics to respond not to Whitman’s death but to his continuing life as it has marked their own lives and writings. The eighteen essays gathered in this volume testify to the powerful multiple responses that Whitman continues to evoke. They recreate another Whitman perhaps more real than the one we thought we knew.
The “continuing presence” that Whitman’s readers have created is as diverse as those readers themselves. But he is, as he promised, everywhere: “Missing me one place search another / I stop somewhere waiting for you.” The central figure of American poetic history, he has been a formative presence in the work of black writers in America and Europe, in the development of women’s poetry that has learned from him to celebrate the body, and of course in the emergence of the gay literary tradition, all of which can be linked to movements of political change. Whitman helped make it possible to be a black poet, a female poet, or a gay poet, partly because he saw himself not as a model but as an enabler. He still continues to challenge our assessment of our sexuality and the ways we organize it. Martin’s collection is particularly strong on the investigation of Whitman’s homosexuality, his homotexuality, and his influence on gay writers and will clearly become the most aggregative gathering of essays ever published on this increasingly prominent aspect of Whitman and his work.
The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman seeks to be an intervention and not merely a reflection; it is intended to illuminate a response that continues to take place, a constant invention and reinvention, a writing and rewriting that echo Whitman’s own text of Leaves of Grass. Whitman remains an originating force. Once read, he will not go away.
Susan Margaret Brown
George B. Hutchinson
M. Jimmie Killingsworth
Robert K. Martin
Maria Irena Ramalho De Sousa Santos