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This report is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

The Maligning of Walt Whitman Felix Stefanile
It has been Walt Whitman's destiny to survive not only his detractors, but his admirers. In the American Book Review we may peruse Diane Wakoski's unsurprising praise of Whitman in a short essay, 'The New Conservatism in American Poetry'. She cites the dead bard, directly or by inference, for - of course - his 'barbaric yawp', for his 'new poetics', to which we are heirs in our search for 'a new American voice'. She reminds us, as if we needed reminding these past twenty-five years, that the 'American tradition embraces the maverick and the revolutionary'. In her sense of an on-going American revolution which is our 'American tradition' she manages, correctly, to include William Carlos Williams's search for a 'new measure' of non-metrical verse, and quite incorrectly, I am sure, Pound's touchstone phrase, 'make it new'. (She makes no mention of Pound's poem to Whitman, which might have tilted her tirade against formal verse and 'European tradition' in the direction of an arc of reference not convenient for the axe she is grinding.)

It is not my purpose here to take sides in her personal attack on John Hollander (she calls him 'Satan') for a speech he gave at last year's MLA convention in which - she says - he denounced 'the free verse revolution which is the fulfilment of the Whitman heritage', though I am at a loss to comprehend her when she then evaluates this speech as 'spite' inspired by Hollander's 'lack of recognition'. I should think ...


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