Daddy Walt, or Uncle Walt? Happy Birthday to My Namesake

Walt Whitman's use of free verse became apprec...

Walt Whitman’s use of free verse became appreciated by composers seeking a more fluid approach to setting text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in ...

Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.”

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20 thoughts on “Daddy Walt, or Uncle Walt? Happy Birthday to My Namesake

  1. Funny isn’t it – you needed an online handle like I did when I chose to become ‘Keatsbabe’ all that long time ago and I am now his babe everywhere I go online. I would never have described myself as a babe ever in my whole life so am not sure why I used it here (especailly as I get older) but it kind of worked….

    Walt Whitman has always tested me to be honest. I love many American poets, but for me your namesake comes well behind Robert Frost.

    I’ve been loving your recent posts but have been struggling with so much stuff at the moment I couldn’t compose a comment. Inspired as always though, by your commitment and your intellect 🙂

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    • Wow! Thank you, Suzie. You honor me so. Funny, I was telling Brian recently about you, and showing him your blog. I said almost what you said. “She’s Keats’ Babe like I’m Walt’s Son!” 🙂 He was shocked that I put William Stafford ahead of Uncle/Daddy, but some of that may be about relatability too, and the time in my life when I needed Stafford, and boom, there he was.

      Thanks for keeping up with me, and for making me smile.

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  2. It is funny how we chose our favorite (poets dead or not) I have utmost affection for Shelly (well most of his poems) and Bukowski. Most of the time I do not even know why. But sometimes their word speak to me louder than any living person ever has. He used humor to convey and at first draw you in and then you would realize that the underlying message was serious. Sometime I think I would like to be more of an insider but I wouldn’t be me and I don’t mind being called odd most of the time. Keep up the good works Son of Walt – I need to read more because the television does not challenge me and hasn’t for years now

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    • Thanks for replying, Ian. You are right. I think that’s it. Stafford spoke to me in a way that made me feel less strange, less alone inside my head.

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  3. It’s interesting how we get stuck on things that aren’t necessarily our favorite things in the world. For instance, my blog for original material is called The Spire Cranes, after the Dylan Thomas poem. I like Dylan Thomas. He’s not my favorite poet, but he certainly had a way with words, and that title has always stuck with me, so when I had to name my site, it came ringing back across the years.

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  4. Ever liken your soul to a noiseless patient spider? Arguably one of my favorites by Walt (aside from Song of Myself, of course, but I try to spread more than just his most well known).

    Also, thank goodness my original handle didn’t stick, otherwise my poetry would be part of an “ignorantblisstopia’!

    Cheers,
    c. j.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Whitman’s Birthday Weekend, and Shopping with Ginsberg « The Dad Poet

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