Walt Whitman, a Talk Show Guy


Whitman is always talking about America and its democracy as if it were a poem. He says America is the greatest poem there ever was.

John Hollander

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,

With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds…

Speech is the twin of my vision….it is unequal to measure itself.

Song of Myself [25]

On my ecstatic weekend rereading of “Song of Myself,” it’s unmistakable that Walt Whitman was an Open Source kinda radio dude. Listen, brother and sisters all:

I hear the sound of the human voice….a sound I love,

I hear all sounds as they are tuned to their uses….

sounds of the city and sounds out of the city….

sounds of the day and night;

Talkative young ones to those that like them….the

recitative of fish-pedlars and fruit-pedlars….the

loud laugh of workpeople at their meals,

The angry base of disjointed friendship….the faint

tones of the sick,

The judge with hands tight to the desk, his shaky lips

pronouncing a death sentence,

The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the

wharves….the refrain of the anchor-lifters; ….

I hear the trained soprano….she convulses me like the

climax of my love-grip; ….

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself [26]

So how shall we read, share, celebrate, and find fresh wisdom in the great Whitman, on this 150th anniversary summer of his “Leaves of Grass”? “If you want me again,” he wrote, “look for me under your bootsoles.” Who wants to instruct us about finding and “getting” him? Who wants to read favorite excerpts on the air?

John Hollander

John Hollander has written several volumes of poetry including Picture Window A former Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, he is currently the Sterling Professor of English at Yale.

[In a studio in New Haven, CT.]

Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky has published several books of poetry including Jersey Rain . Pinsky teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University, and in 1997 was named the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He lives in Massachusetts.

[In Studio , WGBH]

Rosanna Warren

Rosanna Warren has won a number of awards, most recently, the Award of Merit in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2004). Rosanna Warren’s most recent book of poems is Departure. She teaches Comparative Literature at Boston University.

[by phone from the woods of Vermont]


Original Recordings: hear passages from Leaves of Grass read by Studs Terkel, and Stanley Kunitz. Listen live on the show and in extended form on our site post-broadcast.

Studs Terkel reads “Song Of Myself,” section 21

Stanley Kunitz reads “Song Of Myself,” section 7

Studs Terkel on Walt Whitman

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