What is the relationship between poetry and fame? What happens to a reader's experience when a poem invokes its author's popularity? Is there a meaningful connection between poetry and advertising, between the rhetoric of lyric and the rhetoric of hype? One of the first full-scale treatments of celebrity in nineteenth-century America, this book examines Walt Whitman's lifelong interest in fame and publicity.
Making use of notebooks, photographs, and archival sources, David Haven Blake provides a groundbreaking history of the rise of celebrity culture in the United States. He sees Leaves of Grass alongside the birth of commercial advertising and the nation's growing obsession with the lives of the famous and the renowned. As authors, lecturers, politicians, entertainers, and clergymen vied for popularity, Whitman developed a form of poetry that routinely promoted and, indeed, celebrated itself. Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity proposes a fundamentally new way of thinking about a seminal American poet and a major national icon.
This tightly written volume examines the trajectory of poet Walt Whitman's relationship to his dynamic 19th-century American society. When Whitman began writing Leaves of Grass in 1855, the new United States was just on the verge of becoming a culture of celebrity, and the young Brooklyn poet, located where the transformation was most evident, was eager to immerse himself in it. As Whitman witnessed the principles of his nation changing to include charismatic individuality and self-fulfillment, he began to see his reading public as his adoring patron and revised his great poem accordingly. After the war, he looked back at Leaves of Grass as a popular failure but of an ennobling kind. Whitman now cited his commercial failure as a sure sign of artistic integrity and a forecast of future acclaim. And so it has proved to be. We already have numerous studies of how Whitman's daring poetics changed modern poetry, but in this learned and highly detailed little volume from Blake (English, Coll. of New Jersey), we now have a clear discussion of how the dynamics of the new American society helped shape the poetics and ideas of its greatest poet. Highly recommended for all academic libraries.-Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.