Song of Myself – self promotion and Walt Whitman
“The public is a thick skinned beast and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there.” Walt Whitman
When did writers start having to be such shameless self promoters? A new phenomena brought on by merging publishing houses, corporate greed, social media?
Walt Whitman was a master of singing his own praises in the mid-1800. I’m sure he wasn’t first writer to toot his own horn. But I love Whitman, so his endorsements of himself are particularly interesting to me.
Forbes, our public library here in Northampton, MA, has a CD, titled 32 American Poets. Each section starts with a brief intro to the poet followed by a few poems. My favorite, by far, is section 12, Walt Whitman, a selection from Leaves of Grass. For me Whitman’s poetry has always seemed an antidote for the ugly American syndrome. On the CD’s intro to Whitman I heard the scandalous news that he was a tireless self promoter. His tactics to become widely read included reviewing his own work without crediting himself as author of the review, getting himself prosecuted for obscenity on purpose for the publicity the charge would garner, getting Emerson to write him private letters which he then published to show he was admired by the already famous man.
I repeat the quote from Walt, the man who wrote some of the most beautifully inclusive, people-loving, people celebrating poetry I’ve ever read. “The public is a thick skinned beast and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there.”
I, for one, am happy Walt kept whacking, otherwise the beautiful gold leafed edition of Leaves of Grass that I keep in my bedroom probably wouldn’t exist.
Not sure I’ll do my own reviews, but if anyone wants to write admiring letters, I’m open to receiving and publishing them. As for obscenity charges, in 2011, I probably wouldn’t go there.