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Walt is Out There
November 11, 2008 |
Dear Mr. Keillor,
I'm 17 years old, a high school senior and in love with poetry. Most countries have national epics Virgil's Aeneid, The Divine Comedy and the United States has four prose epics Huck Finn, Gatsby, Moby Dick, and The Grapes of Wrath but no proper official epic poem. My question is, what gives? Why are we turning our backs on Walt Whitman? Song of Myself is America.
How can we get Song of Myself the recognition it deserves? What do you think? Worth it? Needful, even?
The only recognition that Walt wanted was to be read, Sarah, so you've gratified his ghost already, and we have no idea how many others are reading him right now. It's a big mystery. He's in every library in America and in bookstores and on the Internet and if you Google "Song of Myself" it pops right up.
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
I suppose you can promote Walt by putting on a public reading of "Song of Myself" there in Maryland. You could make a Walt float for the 4th of July parade. You could print out lines from the poem and leave them in waiting rooms and on buses. You could hire a skywriting plane to write "I stop somewhere waiting for you" in a clear blue sky. But Walt is out there, waiting for readers, and I'm sure they're finding him. I don't know that he needs a vast crowd of readers he might rather be loved by a few thousand than be casually scanned by a million. But do be aware that some people cannot STAND "Song of Myself" and think it's the biggest burst of flatulence in all of American literature. So expect some resistance.