Poet at Work: Recovered Notebooks from the Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection
Arts & Humanities
Whitman frequently reached for pen and paper to record his thoughts, ideas, observations, and tasks. If a notebook was not handy, he used scraps of paper. By comparing Whitman's poetry and prose (see the section above on The Writing Process) students can see how Whitman's journal writing also developed into poetry, how his poetry resembled prose, and how poetic his prose could be. In this way, they may witness the very close relationship between the two media.
Students can buy or make their own notebooks to jot full of notes. There are no right or wrong notes to include. After a given period of time, they can review their notebooks and choose a topic or passage to develop into an essay or poem.
Further consider the relationship between different creative media by contemplating Whitman's cardboard butterfly. Why would a person want to combine visual and literary media? Ask students why, given what they know about him, Whitman might have combined these media. Inform students of the changes Whitman made to the organization and look, especially the size and cover, of Leaves of Grass throughout his life. Why was Whitman so concerned with the book form? How does this interest relate to his other interests? Why might Whitman have enjoyed using journals so much?