358:442 Seminar: Walt Whitman

01  TTH4  CAC  15740  MCGILL  MU-111

In this seminar we will immerse ourselves in the poetry and prose of perhaps America’s greatest poet, Walt Whitman.  Whitman is best known for pioneering the metrically irregular “free verse” line, for insisting that poetry should celebrate and give expression to human sexuality, and for challenging poets to make their work speak to the ideals of democracy.  Much of the semester will be spent getting to know Whitman’s most celebrated poetry: the long poems “Song of Myself” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry;” his scandalous poetic sequences about sexuality, “Children of Adam” and “Calamus;” his poems of vocation, “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking;” and his elegy for Abraham Lincoln “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”  We will study the sequence of editions of Leaves of Grass that Whitman published between 1855 and his death in 1892, with an emphasis on the 1855, 1856, and 1860 editions.  We will read some of his early journalism in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, his temperance fiction (which he claimed to have written while drunk), and his Civil War poetry and prose, including the notebooks he kept while serving as a nurse among the wounded.  We will conclude the semester by studying Whitman’s influence on 20th century poetry and poetics, including poems by William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Allen Ginsberg, Ann Waldman, and Claudia Rankine. 

This is a seminar, and so I will expect thoughtful preparation and active participation from all students in the class. Only two unexcused absences will be permitted without penalty.

Written work will include short response papers, a midterm paper, and a final paper or project.  Students will also contribute to a Digital Humanities project connected with the website “The Vault at Pfaff’s” (https://pfaffs.web.lehigh.edu), learning basic TEI markup skills.  I hope to arrange a field trip to Whitman’s house in Camden and student attendance at a number of scholarly events in the area celebrating the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth (May 31 1819).