Reading from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

30 Sep

Two vlogs in one week? Who would’ve thought? Today, I’m posting a video of me reading from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – from the poem “Song of Myself.” I have kind of a wonderful story about how I discovered Whitman that I feel is appropriate for this Banned Books Week reading.

I was first given a piece of Leaves of Grass in my 7th grade English class, and I was instantly hooked. I’d been so bored to that point with stricter forms of poetry, and this was the first time I’d read something without much regular form at all. My teacher at the time was a wonderful woman who recognized that not only was I enraptured, but that it was a flame to be fed. She gave me a copy of the complete collection, which I read over and over again until the spine finally gave way and I had to replace it in high school with the copy you see me reading from in the video. I didn’t realize at the time that my teacher was a little subversive.

Being a military brat meant that occasionally I would get plopped down in a school district and have major gaps in my education, or in this case, everything on the curriculum for her class was something I’d already been exposed to. So she gave me books to supplement what we were reading in class, and they were books that were probably well beyond grade level, but within my reading ability. I think she realized that if she didn’t give me additional literature, I was going to get bored very quickly. It wasn’t subversive or anything – I always shared what she was giving me with my parents and they encouraged reading beyond my classroom assignments.

Leaves of Grass was my first taste of what felt like “adult” reading. The themes that caused this book to be banned and challenged are not overt and I definitely didn’t recognize the homosexual language when I first read it, but as I matured and grew more aware of the world, each time I read it, I remember discovering something new – a realization where before there was nothing. I think I still do that when I flip through it, and if you’ve never had the opportunity to read the poems in their entirety, I highly suggest it. My love of Whitman blossomed into my love of the Beat poets later on, and even later, into a love for spoken word. All of which have a long history of being challenged. I hope you enjoy the reading, and I encourage all of you to record your own pieces for the Virtual Read-Out.

Also apparently I cannot pronounce the phrase “Banned Books Week.”

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3 Responses to “Reading from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman”

  1. Anna October 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Oh, “Song of Myself.” I, too, fell in love with that poem the first time I read it – and have read it many times since. I also felt an instant connection to Allen Ginsberg because of his similarity to (and affinity for) Whitman.

    Thanks for this! You’ve led me to crack open my own copy of Leaves of Grass again (which is certainly not as cool as yours!).

  2. Jillian ♣ October 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    A great book. I’ve read the first half sequentially, and have read many of the poems as stand-alones. I do mean to read it all sequentially, eventually.

  3. Kari October 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    This was a good post, because you finally, in my head, instilled some personal story or connection in my mind with the concept of poetry. Usually, I don’t like poetry. And by usually, I mean 99% of the time. The lack of structure frustrates me; the pretension that often comes with analysis of it annoys me. To me, I’ve always sort of likened it to modern art, when I see a painting of red lines and say, “Pft, I could do that. Why is that in a museum?” You’re allllmost inspired me to read Whitman. Maybe. We’ll see. Maybe poetry can be an acquired taste.

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