Leaves of Grass (1855 edition)

Almost a week of December has slipped away and I’ve only posted one book here, what could I be up to? I’ve been sipping slowly and deliberately at this delicious Whitman concoction for the past few weeks and finally decided to pop it up here, although I don’t think I’m going to ever stop reading it, a few lines a day maybe, briefly considering the effort it would take to memorize some of it, wouldn’t that be divine to be able to summon Uncle Walt’s words at a moment’s notice? So far I’ve only managed to memorize “Washes and razors for foo-foos…. for me, freckles and a bristling beard”—a line that Whitman excised from the “Deathbed” edition of his much-revised poems, which tells you everything you need to know about which version to read (this first one, of course).  This Penguin edition I’m reading has an intro by Malcolm Crowley from 1955 wherein he calls this first edition a “buried masterpiece of American writing” because everyone ignored it before his resurrection I suppose. Walt himself insisted that the 1892 Deathbed edition (a bloated 383 poems instead of the pure 12 included here) was the version he preferred and recommended, but I’m on Crowley’s side with this one.

This version seems more pure, a simple clarity with “no twistified or foggy sentences” as Whitman himself put it. After 1855 he fell under his own spell and thought himself a prophet, puffed up his prose and overedited things into shambles. Crowley calls this period when Whitman was “inflated.”

The only thing I’ve yet to really appreciate is Whitman’s original introduction to the 1855 edition, written after the poems and when he was catching a bit of the puff of himself. It’s 19 pages of blathering that I need to gird myself to go back to, when I’d much rather frolic in the verses themselves. “My words itch at your ears till you understand them.”

Sidenote, not from anything I read in this edition but my own convoluted knowledge of strange things: Whitman’s idea for the cover art (Flowery letters of gold overlaid on green) came after he saw his pal Fannie Fern‘s book cover- Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio (to whom he owed a bit of money that he never repaid, by the by).

 

Weight of the Earth: The Tape Journals of David Wojnarowicz

I read Wojnarowicz’s memoir earlier this year and was excited to see this new offering, an edited transcription of some of the tape journals he used to record in the 1980s. It’s gotten me excited about his work again, this writer, artist, poet, photographer, filmmaker. He begins with lots of musings about a new guy he’s seeing, Bill, and wondering where their relationship is going. His anticipation and excitement and tenderness about the new feelings are heartbreaking to witness.

He wonders if by hanging out with people older than himself—either when he was a young teen hustler or even in his twenties—he caught a fear of being old and penniless from hearing them all worry about it. “Yet here they are, penniless, homeless, or on the verge of being so. And they’re in their later age, and it’s that period of later age that I think scares most people into a solid relationship that they’re not even sure they desire but that they take in order to fight off any sort of fear of being alone.”

“I like ugly people or people with some sense of derangement, and that’s something I’ve always felt. Not necessarily deranged, but somebody who’s off in some way, somebody who’s interesting, who has character, through lack of beauty or whatever.”

Later, as he lives on in Peter Huljar’s house after Peter’s died of AIDS and now that David realizes he has it too, he seems to create art at a frenetic pace, philosophizing and writing and talking and dreaming and wondering whether or not he wants to die (he doesn’t). Struggling to understand how his entire group of friends is disappearing into death so soon, he has a moment of clarity on the toilet:

Bridget Jones’ Diary

A hilarious book absolutely ruined by the movie but worth reading despite having Rene Zellwegger’s face loom up at me from the pages (along with Colin Firth’s and Hugh Grant’s). Definitely a tour of force from the 90s that hits on themes still relevant (if not more so) today- feminism, climate change, general hijinx. Stumbled onto this rec by way of someone who’s posting about each chapter, a diary of reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, which is also hilarious.