Uncle Walt, Father of American Poetry

Born into the American Experience on this day in West Hills, Long Island (1819) was Walt Whitman, whose wandering life and joyous, staggering poetry gave voice to the chaos and virility of a nation in puberty.

From The Writer's Almanac:

Walt Whitman moved back to New York City and started writing for newspapers. He loved the penny papers—the cheap ones—their lively style. He said, 'I like limber, lashing, fierce words... strong, cutting, beautiful, rude words.' He liked to walk up and down Broadway and around in Battery Park.

"He wrote a novel about the evils of alcohol called Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times, (1842). It sold more than 20,000 copies. He went to New Orleans in 1846 to write for a newspaper there. He was amazed at what he saw: the mixture of Spanish and English and French. He saw slaves being auctioned on the block. He came to believe that he should write something to hold the country together, that America needed a poetry unlike poetry of Europe. The first edition of Leaves of Grass came out in 1855, unrhymed, un-metered poetry that combined language of sermons, romantic poetry and working class slang.


More at The Walt Whitman Archive.
Listen (Real Audio) to Garrison Kieller read excerpts from Crossing Brookyn Ferry.