In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself

John Marsh. Monthly Review Press, $25 (258p) ISBN 978-1-58367-475-8
Marsh (Hog Butchers, Beggars, and Busboys), an associate English professor at Pennsylvania State, proposes that Walt Whitman and his poetry can save America, just as he says Whitman saved his life. But this highly personal work of literary criticism fails to cohere. Marsh explains that his own period of depression and personal crisis led him to visit places he found significant to “the American bard.” These include Whitman’s home in Camden, a strip club (“Where better to gaze at and celebrate healthy bodies, which Whitman does so often?”), and Whitman’s grave. While Marsh’s discomfort at the strip club makes for some laughs, the most effective passage is his description of taking the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan ferry, which fosters a genuine connection with Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” despite how much has changed since the poem was written. Other Whitman scholars and admirers may be surprised when Marsh dismisses the importance of the poet’s sexuality in his life and work. Still, anyone who hasn’t cracked open Leaves of Grass since a high school English class should be impressed, if not altogether enlightened, by Marsh’s close reading of this American original’s poems and letters. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/24/2014
Release date: 02/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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