Monday, March 27, 2006

Song of my reading list

I love to read novels, short stories, non-fiction, plays, magazines, and even experimental things, but I don't always like to read poetry. I'm not sure why this is. In general a wide variety of prose writing will appeal to me at least a little bit, but only a few poems seem to break through. I do have a few poetry books that I've read and really enjoyed: some Anne Sexton, some anthologies from college, chapbooks by Josh's mom, and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (the 1855 edition).

[As an aside, a lovely site with full-text and images from all Whitman's editions of this ever-evolving work can be found here. And scanned images from some of his notebooks are on this very nifty site.]

Prior to its coming up on my reading randomizer, I'd only read parts of Leaves of Grass -- sections from "Song of Myself" and all of "I Sing the Body Electric." When I read these in college, I remember thinking that Whitman was awesome. In fact, that is probably when I bought this book. I loved his philosophies about the interconnectedness of all things; his lists and descriptions of people and places in the pre-Civil War United States; and his acknowledgment and appreciation for the physical, be it in a couple of bodies, the grass on a hillside, or the work of a carpenter.

Twenty-nine year old Kristy still liked quite a bit of Leaves of Grass, but Whitman's idealism and somewhat preachy sense of righteousness is less appealing to me now. Still, I'm glad I took the time to read the whole book in context, and to see how all the poems fit together.

One bit I was both glad and frustrated to read was Whitman's preface to this first edition of his life work. Frustrated because he occasionally flew off to crazy-spiritualism-ville and glad because I came across bits like this:

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

Now that, I like.

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