You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Collage of Myself

Collage of Myself: Walt Whitman and the Making of Leaves of Grass

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Collage of Myself
    Book Description:

    Collage of Myselfpresents a groundbreaking account of the creative story behind America's most celebrated collection of poems. In the first book-length study of Walt Whitman's journals and manuscripts, Matt Miller demonstrates that until approximately 1854 (only a single year before the first publication ofLeaves of Grass), Whitman-who once speculated thatLeaveswould be a novel or a play-was unaware that his ambitions would assume the form of poetry at all.

    Collage of Myselfdetails Whitman's discovery of a remarkable new creative process that allowed him to transform a diverse array of texts into poems such as "Song of Myself" and "The Sleepers." Whitman embraced an art of fragments that encouraged him to "cut and paste" his lines into ever-evolving forms based on what he called "spinal ideas." This approach to language, Miller argues, represents the first major use in the Western arts of the technique later known as collage, an observation with significant ramifications for our reception of subsequent artists and writers. Long before the modernists, Whitman integrated found text and ready-made language into a revolutionary formulation of artistic production that anticipates much of what is exciting about modern and postmodern art.

    Using the Walt Whitman Archive's collection of digital images to study what were previously scattered and inaccessible manuscript pages, Miller provides a breakthrough in our understanding of this great American literary icon.

    eISBN: 978-0-8032-3442-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction (pp. xiii-xviii)

    This book is a case study of the creative process, a demonstration of how Walt Whitman composed his early poems, and a reevaluation of the origins of collage as a practice in Western art. Here, I explore an enduring mystery in American literary studies: the question of how Walter Whitman, a rather undistinguished newspaperman and author of potboiler temperance fiction, transformed himself with astonishing speed into the author of America’s most celebrated collection of poems. This book documents a new and surprising achievement by America’s most famous poet: over a half-century before the word collage was applied to Picasso’s pioneering...

  6. List of Abbreviations (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. 1 How Whitman Used His Early Notebooks (pp. 1-47)

    As we look back onLeaves of Grasstoday, over a century and a half after the publication of the first edition, we are still at a loss to explain how Walt Whitman came to create such a groundbreaking book. As a result of scant and oft en misunderstood documentary evidence from the period leading up to the publication of the firstLeaves, many scholars have regarded the book’s genesis as an unsolvable mystery, and those who have tried to explore the puzzle have oft en been hindered by misconceptions about Whitman’s life and his creative process. Readers exploring Whitman’s...

  8. 2 Packing and Unpacking the First Leaves of Grass (pp. 48-103)

    Between 1853 and 1855, as Whitman was creating his poetic selfhood in writing, piecing together an identity from notes and scraps of written and found language, Whitman moved no less than four times, taking with him not only his family, but also his notebooks, manuscript fragments, and the various texts that he drew upon in the making of the firstLeaves of Grass. He began 1853 in a three-story house on Cumberland Street in Brooklyn, where he and his family had lived for eight months, having moved there in September 1852 from their residence at 106 Myrtle Avenue, where Whitman’s...

  9. 3 Kosmos Poets and Spinal Ideas (pp. 104-160)

    Even as the nomadic Whitman of the early 1850s lived a life on the go, moving from house to house and desk to desk with his myriad notebooks and scattered drafts of lines, he was also searching for threads of order in what he had written, structures that would come to shape the poems of the first edition ofLeaves of Grass. Whitman liked to call these concepts his “spinal ideas,” a phrase that calls to mind not only a human body but also a book, with its spine, holding its leaves together. The concept was highly elastic, and he...

  10. 4 Poems of Materials (pp. 161-214)

    In July 1855 two events occurred that must have profoundly affected Walt Whitman: in the beginning of the month the first edition ofLeaves of Grasswas made available to the public, and only a week or so later his father succumbed to a prolonged, debilitating illness, passing away in his home on July 11.¹ Whitman spoke little about his father’s death, and we can only speculate about how it must have affected him. In fact there is not a single mention of his father in the notes that survive from this period. What we find instead is a poet...

  11. 5 Whitman after Collage / Collage after Whitman (pp. 215-250)

    After Whitman discovered his groundbreaking approach to literary composition he struggled with how to define and describe it, even in his notes to himself. The word collage had not yet been invented; nor did Whitman have recourse to related terms such aspastiche,montage, orfound art. Lacking a critical lexicon for his creative method he worked with the tools at his disposal.¹ In an early notebook often described as a kind of homemade dictionary he offers this puzzling definition for the Italianrifacimento: “riffacciamento-rumble (sort of mosaic work mixture mess.” The word, which Whitman likely encountered in reference to...

  12. Notes (pp. 251-274)
  13. Bibliography (pp. 275-282)
  14. Index (pp. 283-295)