Essay on Walt Whitman by Kyle Flak

Walt Whitman played “The Star Spangled Banner” on an Olympic white Fender Stratocaster electric guitar in Woodstock, New York on Monday morning, August 18th, 1969 and changed the world forever.

Walt Whitman was known as “Charlie Hustle” and hit a record breaking 3,215 singles during his 23 year career as a Major League switch hitter before becoming “permanently banned from baseball” due to accusations that he had been gambling on his own team, The Cincinnati Reds.

Walt Whitman invented the wheel in 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia, but at first he mainly only used it to make dumb pottery. It was at least a good 300 years later in Ancient Greece that he finally began using his wheel to totally kick major ass at chariot racing.

Walt Whitman is HD 140283, a 14 billion year old star nicknamed Methuselah, about 190 light years away from the planet you folks call “Earth.”

Walt Whitman was definitely that crazy “spray on hair from a can” dude from those commercials that were always on TV when I was a kid in the early 1990’s.

Walt Whitman was World War I, World War II, the sack of Babylon by the Hittites, the second Persian invasion of Greece, The Portuguese–Mamluk naval war, The War of the Quadruple Alliance, The Franco-Trarzan War of 1825, and pretty much every other stupid war that has ever existed for any stupid reason.

Walt Whitman is Matt Margo, Bernadette Mayer, Tim Staley, Nick Courtright, David Bartone, Francesca Chabrier, Kyle McCord, Zach Savich, Mark Leidner, Jeff Downey, Adam Crittenden, Jennifer L. Knox, Michael Sikkema, Jen Tynes, David Wojciechowski, Hannah Brooks-Motl, Dara Wier, Johnny Huerta, Mike Young, James Tate, and basically every other cool poet I’ve ever known, met, read, or hung out with.

Walt Whitman loves it whenever a cartoon character wears a shrub as a disguise and then tip toes around stealthily while a silly xylophone plays that funny sound that is supposed to apparently represent “sneaky footsteps.”


Walt Whitman accidentally broke his leg while skateboarding on a gnarly half pipe in Santa Cruz, California in the summer of 1988.

Walt Whitman is the best damn slice of pizza Yankton, South Dakota has to offer.

Walt Whitman is a huge totally unexplored sea cave at the bottom of the sea that no one even knows about yet.

Walt Whitman likes long walks on the beach, professional wrestling, astrology, circuses, The National Geographic Society, any movie with Barbara Streisand in it, the occult, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, peace, love, understanding, joy, sadness, evil, sex, mustard, lava, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and pretty much everything else that has ever existed or ever will.

Thank you.

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From The Project Gutenberg EBook of Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman

I have to say that my wonderful old UMass housemate Jeff Downey from Scottsbluff, Nebraska introduced me to most of my favorite Walt Whitman poems. Whenever he found something that really wowed him, he used to come out of his room and read it out loud to someone in his excellent wide open prairie voice. Thank you, Jeff!

Here are two of the best ones:

Section 20 from “Song of Myself”

Who goes there? hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?

What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?

All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.

I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth.

Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids, conformity
goes to the fourth-remov’d,
I wear my hat as I please indoors or out.

Why should I pray? why should I venerate and be ceremonious?

Having pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair, counsel’d with
doctors and calculated close,
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt
stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by,
after all.)

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten
million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.


To a Stranger (from the Calamus section of Leaves of Grass)

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate,
chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours
only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you
take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or
wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.


And here’s a part of “Song of Myself” that James Tate (1943-2015) used to read out loud to us in class. I can still hear his voice every time I read this poem.

(Section Six from “Song of Myself”)

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see
and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I
receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out
of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken
soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Kyle Flak is the author of I AM SORRY FOR EVERYTHING IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE UNIVERSE (Gold Wake Press, 2017), WHAT HANK SAID ON THE BUS (Publishing Genius, 2013) (Winner of the Chris Toll Prize), THE SECRET ADMIRER (Adastra Press, 2010), and HARMONICA DAYS (New Sins Press, 2009). In 2013, he was a finalist for a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from The Poetry Foundation. In 2015, he was chosen as a “Poet to Notice” by Grandma Moses Press. His writing has recently appeared in Frogpond, Hart House Review, Makeout Creek, Mudfish, Poetry East, Spinning Jenny, Whiskey Island, and various other magazine / anthology type of things. He went to school at Northern Michigan University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


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