What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life

What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life

by Mark Doty


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Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2020 by Buzzfeed, Library Journal, The Millions, and The Rumpus

Effortlessly blending biography, criticism, and memoir, National Book Award–winning poet and best-selling memoirist Mark Doty explores his personal quest for Walt Whitman.

Mark Doty has always felt haunted by Walt Whitman’s bold, perennially new American voice, and by his equally radical claims about body and soul and what it means to be a self. In What Is the Grass, Doty—a poet, a New Yorker, and an American—keeps company with Whitman and his Leaves of Grass, tracing the resonances between his own experience and the legendary poet’s life and work.

What is it then between us? Whitman asks. In search of an answer, Doty explores spaces—both external and internal—where he finds the poet’s ghost. He meditates on desire, love, and the mysterious wellsprings of the poet’s enduring work: a radical experience of transformation and enlightenment, queer sexuality, and an obsession with death, as well as unabashed love for a great city and for the fresh, rowdy character of American speech. In riveting close readings threaded with personal memoir and illuminated by awe, Doty reveals the power of Whitman’s persistent presence in his life and in the American imagination at large.

How does a voice survive death? What Is the Grass is a conversation across time and space, a study of the astonishment one poet finds in the accomplishment of another, and an attempt to grasp Whitman’s deeply hopeful vision of human possibility.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393070224
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 53,476
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Mark Doty is the author of more than ten volumes of poetry and three memoirs. His many honors include the National Book Award and a Whiting Writers’ Award. He is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Preface Apparition 1

The First Source

1 On the Extremest Verge 11

2 Nothing That Has Ceased to Arrive 25

3 Every Atom 36

4 The Elderhand 41

5 Luckier 55

The Second Source

6 The Unwriteable 73

7 (Is It Night? Are We Here Alone?) 88

8 Buds Folded Beneath Speech 100

9 Done with the Compass 120

10 The Old Old Poem Walt 133

11 Bijou 149

12 Insatiable 157

13 A Loving Bedfellow 170

The Third Source

14 I Loved Well Those Cities 183

The Fourth Source

15 Stucco'd with Quadrupeds and Birds All Over 209

The Fifth Source

16 Demon or Bird 229

17 The Strong and Delicious Word 239

18 What Is It Then Between Us? 250

Acknowledgments 277

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