‘what history teaches,’ part 4


The importance of Whitman, and particularly of Leaves of Grass, for Shurin’s poetics and historiography is difficult to overestimate, and may be gauged for example by the latter’s earlier volume of poetry City of Men, whose postscript of 1988 appears in Unbound under the title “Full Circle”:

The poem uses only Whitman’s language, culled from the poems in the Children of Adam and Calamus groupings from Leaves of Grass.  As most careful readers of Whitman know, Calamus is his collection of homoerotic love poems, emotional, tender, idealistic, radically political, prophetic, obliquely erotic, but – alas – not sexual.  If you want sex, go to the grouping Children of Adam, Whitman’s putative heterosexual songs.  They are filled with body and body parts, physical material catalogues, paeans to the sex act – but – alas – not love.  The body is electric but it is not affectionate.  [11]

Or again:

In composing “City of Men” I chose to graft – by interspersing them – poems from Whitman’s Calamus with those from his Children of Adam.  While the body in Calamus is incessantly hidden, metaphorized as leaves, roots, blossoms, scented herbage, live oak, moss, vines and buds, now it can be revealed in its polymorphous glory as arms, shoulders, lips, fingers, loins, elbows and necks.  No more will we hear – as in Calamus – “I dare not tell it in words” or “Here I shall shade and hide my thoughts“; rather, as in Children of Adam:  “Be not afraid of my body.”

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Filed under Books, Death, History and historiography, Reading and writing

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