Friday, March 16, 2007

A Walk With Walt

In my research for Printing House Square, I came across an extraordinary post at of a walk with Walt Whitman which maps out a route to and through the square that would have been familiar to the poet as he pursued a journalistic career in his early days in Manhattan. None of his editing positions quite worked out, which comes as no surprise since the best chance of remaining an editor with a newspaper in those days was to be the printer or publisher.

The invention of the steam press completely revolutionized the newspaper business, setting the stage for publishing influential newspapers such as The New York Times, The Sun, The Tribune, etc., and also gave rise to Printing House Square evolving as a powerful fourth estate that became the self-appointed brokers of moral and political power.

Whitman's "walk" begins at St, Paul's Chapel on Broadway and Vesey on to Park Row, north to an "open space" which is Printing House Square, then to Nassau Street where he passes The New York Aurora, The Democratic Review, and Fowler's Phrenological Cabinet, then left onto Ann Street where many publishers maintained their offices: The New York Tribune, Evening Tattler, The New World, and The Evening Mirror. The Whitman Walk is much more extensive at, it extends to Chatham Square and Five Points. If you are a Whitman enthusiast, I would highly recommend this website, as we learn of the area and the times through Whitman's own voice.

I became involved with Walt Whitman as a student and like most students, I found myself greatly influenced by his ideas and his rhetoric. I do not use rhetoric as a pejorative but in recognition of his unique use of language and his grass-roots style. Whitman is not for everyone...but then, who is? It is interesting to see how he struggled as a young man, was sometimes regarded as lazy, but persisted and maintained a singular vision, which has been described as a manifestation of cosmic consciousness.

When I came to New York and lived in Brooklyn Heights, I walked through the many places that Whitman visited daily and lived a block from the apparent site of his printing office/shop that he ran from 1849-1854. This was demolished and replaced by condominiums, although at least it is called Whitman Close.

I think that my wanderings with empty pages in hand for the purpose of writing poetry is directly linked to my understanding of Walt Whitman as a wanderer who recorded everything he saw as the poems that eventually found their way into Leaves of Grass. I also was taken with his notion of a single book that evolved and grew over the years, just as leaves of grass.

Somewhere in the geological strata of the stacks of paper, books, and memorabilia that have accumulated since high school days are my Whitman poems, poems written in the incandescent glow of Whitman's spirit.

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