Walt Whitman on media

Here’s a gem. A 21 year old junior from The College of New Jersey has discovered an 1888 interview that the school’s student newspaper did with Walt Whitman. He offers young people some unexpected advice:

He tells them to practice their craft and to break conventional models instead of writing traditional “poetry.”

“First, don’t write poetry; second ditto; third ditto,” Whitman says. “You may be surprised to hear me say so, but there is no particular need of poetic expression. We are utilitarian, and the current cannot be stopped.”

Whitman advised them to carry a pencil and piece of paper to jot down daily events. He even suggested they get their hands dirty in the mechanics of printing.

“Whack away at everything pertaining to literary life — mechanical part as well as the rest. Learn to set type, learn to work at the ‘case,’ learn to be a practical printer, and whatever you do learn condensation,” Whitman said.

Ed Folson, editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly, told the AP that Whitman’s admonition to learn how to publish wasn’t a surprise.
“If you’re going to write some unconventional stuff that’s going to challenge people’s thinking, you may damn well need to publish the things yourself,” he said.
I think Walt Whitman would’ve loved to see what we see today. Everywhere you turn, conventionality is being undercut by, well, people with printing presses.


  1. This is fabulous. Walt Whitman was the original New Media guru. He couldn’t get his stuff published in traditional venues, so he self-published. He said what no one else would say, telling his own truth at every turn, consequences be damned. He would’ve been the first blogger, IMHO. Terrific post.

  2. I’m amazed I haven’t heard more about this newly discovered interview with The Captain. It’s a nice surprise.

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