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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

August 12, 2005

Saints of DIY: Walt Whitman

I live in Brooklyn near Fort Greene Park, which Walt Whitman helped to found. One of the newspapers he used to work for, the Brooklyn Eagle, used to be located not far from here. These are among the many reasons I love my neighborhood; I think I've soaked up lots of Whitmanic inspiration.

Before becoming an energetic journalist and legendary poet, Whitman worked as a printer's apprentice, mastering the production methods necessary to produce newspapers and books; as a newspaperman he honed his editorial skills and reporting and learned about distribution and publicity; he even owned a bookstore briefly...all before self-publishing his first volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass in 1855, which he had printed and distributed by a local Brooklyn firm, Fowler Bros. Printing.

Whitman's DIY gumption didn't stop there. After the book's initial release he sent copies to several writers he admired, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Emerson wrote him a glowing letter of praise in response, Whitman published the letter as a blurb (without Emerson's permission) in the second edition. Among the disparate critical responses to Whitman's work, two absolutely gushing reviews stood out...and were later discovered to have been written by the poet himself.

Read Whitman's self reviews here and here.

CAConrad has been asking poets what they think about Whitman's bold attitude and posting their answers at the PhillySound Blog. I wrote a little answer myself that should appear soon (in case you can't already guess how I feel about old Walt!).

Check them out here.


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