Monday, May 09, 2011

Calamus

In making a poster for National Poetry Month, using Wordle word clouds made from my own homoerotic poems, followed up by another version using one of my typewriters, the idea was suggested to make something using Walt Whitman's most well-known homoerotic poems: the "Calamus" section of Leaves of Grass. May is the month of Whitman's birthday, so it seems appropriate to make some art in his honor this month.

So, I've made some Wordle versions of the complete text of "Calamus" from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, the most complete and most explicit version of these poems that Whitman ever published. The 1860 edition, it is agreed by many scholars, to be the peak of Whitman's brilliance, the peak of his sexually-explicit writing, and perhaps his best overall edition. After 1860 Whitman began a long process of self-censoring his poems, of rewriting them to be more acceptable to the general reader. He left many poems out, and by the "death bed" edition of 1891-92, he had rewritten many poems to be more mainstream and bowdlerized entire sections of Leaves to be more neutral and less provocative.

You can do your comparisons of the various editions of Leaves by cruising through The Walt Whitman Archive, one of the best, most thorough, and most complete of any poet's archives on the Internet. You can examine the complete texts of every edition, and view and download scans of the actual printed pages, covers, and supplementary materials published by Whitman during and after his lifetime. This is an invaluable, highly useful tool for any Whitman scholar, from the most casual to the most scrupulous.





I note how the word that appears largest in these Calammus word clouds is "love." That's entirely appropriate, as that is the theme of Whitman's Calamus, after all.



And I've made another poster idea, too, based on combining these Calamus word clouds with images from the Whitman Archives. Elements include pages from the Calamus section of the 1860 edition, the distinctive green cover of Leaves of Grass, a portrait of Whitman by artist Thomas Eakins, and also Eakins famous painting The Swimming Hole, which legend has it was inspired by Whitman's poetry.


Click on image for larger version.

So, Happy Birthday, Walt!

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

The final image is a bit too cluttered for my tastes. In particular the central image. It's really hard to make out. I can see a house but not sure about the rest. I assume it's a hill of some sort.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I made a revision to the final collage, actually. You pointed out what I had already been unsure of. That's what you get for posting something just before going to bed: you get to rethink and redo it, hopefully better, in the morning.

3:28 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I made a revision to the final collage, actually. More like what I had originally envisioned. You pointed out what I had already been unsure of.

That's what you get for posting something just before going to bed: you get to rethink and redo it, hopefully better, in the morning.

12:21 PM  

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