Things Appearing, Every Day: Walt Whitman and the Ubiquity of News


SMITH Jeffrey Alan

Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Keywords Walt Whitman; Leaves of Grass; history of news; nineteenth century journalism
Description One of the lingering questions in Whitman scholarship is how exactly Walt Whitman made his surprising and fairly sudden leap from journalist of little note to groundbreaking poet. The recent rediscov ery of a lost Whitman novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle , dating from the years of that transition, offers a new clue: a chapter apparently based on Whitman’s real life habit of vacating his newspaper office to wander in cemeteries making notes of to mbstone inscriptions. This paper will suggest various ways in which this peculiar hobby represents a rehearsal for the kinds of poetic imagining that would soon find expression in Leaves of Grass . In bringing to life the randomly juxtaposed stories suggest ed by grave memorials, Whitman the churchyard rambler was practicing new ways of receiving and processing information, a new method of reading for a world of “perpetually flowing” news and, from this, a remodeling of poetry as a higher and more “vivified” style of reporting.
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