Today is the birthday of the Poet of Democracy. In my youth I was not crazy about him. I found him prosaic – -I was deceived by the apparent simplicity of the writing. It seemed to me like just a lot of lists. (My favorite poet when I was 19 was Dylan Thomas – -I was looking then for the jolting effect, the thrill of disorientation.) But in my twenties I first read Leaves of Grass in its entirety….and realized that’s what must be done to appreciate it. For it’s a poem about everything, the entire cosmos. And then title of the book begins to sink in.
It gradually became one of my favorite books, and I return to it often. I’ve paid stylistic tribute to it on many occasions (most recently in a section of The Strange Case of Grippo the Apeman). And I’ve included an overt parody of him in my new play The Fickle Mistress. (Don’t miss Theatre Askew’s workshop production of it at Dixon Place this July 25!)
“Ode to the New Freedom: A Composition in the style of Mr. Whitman”
Roll Free, You Incandescent Planets!
Drink deep the heady mead of freedom. Empty the flagon!
Rub elbows with working men, breathe deep the aroma,
For their sweat is your sweat, and vice versa!
No man is better than woman!
No woman is better—(she scratches it out)
Throw off all shackles!
Hurl the tablets bearing commandments until they shatter.
We will make new commandments for a new continent!
Commandments immutable, unspoken, written on the clouds!
Throw off all rhyme and meter! From now on my life like my verses shall be free!
Your Bible is not the only Bible!
What of the Baghavad-Gita? What of Confucius and Zoroaster?
What need have we of books, holy or otherwise?
What of direct communion with nature?
What of direct communion with the spirits?