Walt, Various


I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil.
–Walt Whitman


In 1968 Susan Sontag visited Hanoi for two weeks. In her account of her experiences, she seemed a bit surprised the North Vietnamese were familiar with US literary culture: “Poets read us verses about ‘your Walt Whitman’ and ‘your Edgar Allen Poe.’” This reminds me of Vietnam veteran Larry Heinemann who had this to say: “We lost the war because the Vietnamese just flat out beat us. And we lost the war because we didn’t understand that they were poets. That’s true. In 1990, I went back to Vietnam for the first time. There was a literary conference in Hanoi. At one of the lunches I sat next to this little bitty guy who turned out to be a professor of American literature at Hanoi University—Professor Nguyen Lien. I asked him what he did during the war and this is the story he told me. He said that his job was to go to Beijing and learn English and then go to Moscow University to read and study American literature. Then he went back to Hanoi and out to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and gave lectures on American literature to the troops traveling south. It was not like a six-week survey, just an afternoon, but he talked to them about Whitman, Jack London, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. A lot of Vietnamese soldiers carried translations of American literature in their packs. Le Minh Khue—a young woman who worked on the Ho Chi Minh Trail disarming unexploded bombs—carried Ernest Hemingway. Professor Lien asked me this question, ‘Now what Vietnamese literature did the American military teach you?’ I laughed so hard I almost squirted beer up my nose. I told Professor Lien that I would have been surprised if the U.S. Army had given us classes in American literature.”


Like Poe, Whitman’s breakthru from official conventional nationalist identity to personal self, to subject, subjectivity, to candor of person, sacredness of the unique eccentric curious solitary personal consciousness changed written imaginative conception of the individual around the whole world, and inspired a democratic revolution of mental nature from Leningrad and Paris to Shanghai and Tokyo.
–Allen Ginsberg

— from recent Facebook posts

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