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This article is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Coda David C. Ward

Of Whitman there is no end. Consequently, this conference can tally the poet in ways that can only attempt to be definitive even as their authors know how provisional, uncertain, and incomplete their conclusions must be; scholars exist in their own state of Whitmanesque contradiction.

This series of papers began with the quotidian and the streets, with Sean Wilentz's paper on Whitman and the partisan politics of Jacksonian democracy and the growth of the Republican Party. Next, Michael Schmidt examined the effect of the great irony that, although Whitman intended Leaves of Grass as the cultural equivalent of the Declaration of Independence, it was the British who were most influential in both absorbing Whitman and disseminating him both to the Continent and ultimately back to the United States itself. From the grounding of these papers, we have been catapulted by Alexander Nemerov into the liminal space between the living and the dead in his close reading of Whitman's war poems and their resonance in the art and artifacts of the war years. Finally, the conference heard from the poet Jorie Graham who limned a less optimistic Whitman for our less optimistic times. Tacking between Whitman's celebration of war and his absorption - emotional and intellectual - of its tragic necessities, Graham took Whitman out of his time and into ours. She re-situated Whitman as a poet not just of the past but as a prophetic voice of the future, a voice that will always be ...


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