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LEAVES OF GRASS by Walt Whitman


Walt Whitman achieved his goal of revolutionizing American poetry and LEAVES OF GRASS is probably the most famous book of American poetry ever written. It is a testament to Whitman’s enormous imagination. The collection contains multitudes of people and the most vivid character of all is Whitman himself; whom he describes as – “Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking, breeding” in SONG OF MYSELF.

Walt Whitman is America’s world poet—a latter-day successor to Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare. In LEAVES OF GRASS, he celebrated democracy, nature, love, and friendship. This monumental work chanted praises to the body as well as to the soul, and found beauty and reassurance even in death. Whitman’s greatest legacy is his invention of a truly American free verse. His groundbreaking, open, inclusive, and optimistic poems are written in long, sprawling lines and span an astonishing variety of subject matter and points of view—embodying the democratic spirit of his new America. Whitman continually expanded and revised the book as he took on the role of a workingman’s bard who championed American nationalism, political democracy, contemporary progress, and unashamed sex.

Abraham Lincoln read LEAVES OF GRASS with approval, but Emily Dickinson described its bold language and themes as ‘disgraceful.’ And Ralph Waldo Emerson found LEAVES OF GRAS ‘the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed,’ calling it a ‘combination of the Bhagavad Gita and the New York Herald.

LEAVES OF GRASS was published in nine different versions during his lifetime, and throughout the thirty-five year span of its publishing history, it remained a scandalous book. Whitman labored on and tinkered with and added to and deleted from the LEAVES OF GRASS his entire life. His last years were spent reflecting on his earlier inspirations, and living the role of elder poet with many admirers, like Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde visiting him at his Camden, New Jersey home.

For our reading, we have chosen to focus on the original 1855 first edition and mainly on the self descriptive epic SONG OF MYSELF.  Walt Whitman loved Italian Opera and so our Musical Director for this project, Florian Eisentraut has chosen appropriate music from Whitman’s favorite composers Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti  to accompany the reading.

Performance Date: Monday, July 2 at 20:00 hrs in MERLIN

Featuring Bukola Tijani, Nadia Duran, Susan Schwartz, Michael Hilton, Derrick Jenkins, Charles C. Urban and Florian Eisentraut at the Piano

Director’s Assistant – Rebecca Bullock

Photos by Uka Meissner-deRuiz

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