I have often been asked if my father’s name was Walt, or if I was a fan of Walt Whitman. Some people who are a little less poetry versed have even asked if my pseudonym was a reference to Walt Disney–God forbid! My father’s name was Raymond, actually, and I often refer to Walt Whitman as “Uncle Walt,” as I did in my poem “Wrestling with Uncle Walt,” so I can see why people get confused. Even my partner Brian was puzzled when in answer to someone’s inquiry about my favorite poet I did not name Walt Whitman. “How can you not say Whitman? He’s your namesake!”
Let me explain, and see if I can make this less clear. I am certain I can. Years back I had a professor who argued that Walt Whitman was the “Father of Modern American Poetry.” I decided that he had made a solid case, and since I considered myself a modern American poet, that meant I was a son of Walt. Furthermore, I was in need of a new screen name at the time, and feeling poetic, I chose SonofWalt. It has become my standard handle in multiple online accounts since. I like the sound of it, and I like the fact that Whitman made it possible for people like me to write about literally anything. You see, at a time when there was a deluge of badly written, predictable Victorian poetry throughout our nation, along came this rough, bearded man, sporting hair on his chest, and a shirt unbuttoned too low, writing about the smell of his arm pits, “an aroma finer than prayer.” After him, any topic was fair game for a poem.
But, I was calling him uncle before I chose the screen name, and so I alternately think of him as my father, my uncle, and (I think he would approve), even my lover. Hey, I think it could have happened were we alive at the same time. And how honored I would have been to be wooed by a poem like this video at the end of this post. It was an early reading on my YouTube channel, and the quality isn’t great, but I was happy with the reading, so I kept it.
Now I cannot say that I love every single line the man has ever written. I am not so fanatical as the Sons of Ben. Walt’s long catalogues and lists tire me, to be frank. But I understand their importance, and I don’t deny their relevance to his work. I admit it; I am impatient. Also, I was not thrilled with the vivid, however poetic, description of a male ejaculation. No. I am not kidding. No I am not going to quote it. You’ll have to dig into “Song of Myself” and find it on your own. But you see, every child is embarrassed by his father sometimes, right? Well, don’t ask my sons. I am sure they will tell you that they loved everything I ever said or wrote. Why are you looking at me like that?
I had concluded my 30 days of readings project for National Poetry month in April with selections from “Song of Myself.” You can check out that reading here if you’d like. And since I mentioned my own poem, “Wrestling with Uncle Walt,” I invite you to hear my reading of it as well.
When I started writing this post, the date was still May 31, but now we have slipped into the early hours of June. So if it’s alright with you, I’m going to continue to celebrate Walt’s 193rd birthday right through this weekend. So look for more Whitman Wit and Wonder right here on these pages. For now, here is that old reading I warned you about. Just me in my PJ’s on the living room floor a couple of years ago, reading “When I Heard at the Close of Day.”
- Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!!! (kidzrockinc.co)
- Wrestling with Uncle Walt (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) (paganreveries.wordpress.com)
- Walt Whitman – Happy Birthday (nochargebookbunch.com)
- Day 30 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: DJB Reads from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- A Charitable Correspondence (streetsofsalem.com)
- awesomeness appreciation: Walt Whitman (crestingthewords.wordpress.com)
- To A Stranger: Walt Whitman (michellechaplin.com)