cover image The Poetry of Walt Whitman

The Poetry of Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman. Warner Adult, $9.98 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-59483-558-2

This Whitman guide-one of the first six installments in Hachette Audio's new study guide series-is the audio equivalent of Cliff's Notes. It opens the door on the seminal 19th-century poet, but not especially wide. Peter Strauss delivers Whitman's mini-biography and poetic analyses. He also reads from Song of Myself, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd and Passage to India. Strauss' narration is professorial, sometimes clashing with the wild, open-throated verse of the iconoclastic bard. This overview lacks grounding. The 19th-century poetic status quo that Whitman turned on its head needs to be brought into sharper focus. Otherwise, the poet comes off more eccentric rebel than groundbreaking genius. The historical backdrop remains vague save for the discussion of the impact of the Civil War on the poet's work. The examination of Whitman's legacy ends with the Beat poets, a group active some 50 years ago, and ignores his impact on today's poets. A 21-page study guide on PDF is included with its somewhat sad call to action: ""Because books are long and life is short."" The text closely complements the audio, with a glossary of terms, bibliography, suggested readings, synopses and study questions. This is a narrow introduction to Whitman, and certainly preferable to ignorance. But whether it offers enough flint to spark a fire in the listener remains an open question. The first six A+ releases examine Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises; Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Shelley's Frankenstein and Shakespeare's MacBeth.