Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “On Whitman (Writers on Writers)” as Want to Read:
On Whitman (Writers on Writers)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

On Whitman (Writers on Writers)

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  50 ratings  ·  21 reviews

In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C. K. Williams sets aside the mass of biography and literary criticism that has accumulated around the work and person of Walt Whitman, and attempts to go back to Leaves of Grass as he first encountered it, to explore why Whitman's epic "continues to inspire and sometimes daunt" him. The result is a personal reassessment and apprec

Kindle Edition, 209 pages
Published (first published April 7th 2010)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about On Whitman, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about On Whitman

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-28 of 95)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
James Murphy
Williams has written a compact, adoring critical appreciation of Whitman. Most of his examination and praise is well-established. Still, Williams offers a couple of fresh perspectives. He says the first edition of Leaves of Grass, that of 1855, was Whitman's best poetry. He continued to add to the book and to tinker with the original edition for the rest of his life, but all his work after the first blaze of inspiration for the most part didn't live up to the power of those original poems and hi ...more
Kevin Lawrence
I enjoyed reading this book (while keeping Whitman’s poems close at hand) – Williams’ affection and admiration (even awe) for the poet and his poems is undeniable. To be honest, though, I felt like I came away with a better understanding of C.K. Williams as a poet than learning anything particularly new about Whitman. I especially appreciated Williams yoking Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal as the sort of root genesis of what modernism means to Williams – it puts Wil ...more
Melissa Studdard
(The following is an excerpt from my review in The National Poetry Review)
Williams acts as a detective, out to explore a mystery he can never solve: the source of Whitman’s genius. His foremost concern – when and how Whitman first heard his music – kicks off the investigation with a probing and insightful vignette titled simply, “The Music.” In language itself poetic, Williams states, “[ . . .] we’ll never really know when he first fully intuited, and heard, and knew, that surge of language soun
I've always admired the Messianic voice in Whitman's work. After reading this book, I see that I've been overlooking many other reasons to admire Leaves of Grass, especially Song of Myself. What a difference it makes when a poet writes about another poet rather than a biographer, a historian, a critic, or God forbid, a textbook editor.
Garrett Dunnington
Most comparisons can be made incorporated (cross-platform) as communicable, without separate distinctions--- few or more ideas that are radically different than one another or a couple of outlooks that are structually different but only agree at certain antipodes correlation. Rilke's transformational concept and Whitman's naturalist imbibition share relationship even though Whitman's world is spontaneous, resort in the case of the artist. The visionary. However, I personally don't think that sal ...more
False Millennium
An attractive little book of Whitman essay put out by Princeton University Press, but it begs the question, "Do we really need a new book about Whitman?" I didn't think so.
John J
C.K. Williams, by re-reading, re-discovering and inviting us along the way – while respectfully allowing the large volumes of academic studies their right earned and important place (being one and a master poet, himself) – he allows himself and shares the refreshed near nirvanic awed wonderment of Whitman’s illuminated prose and poetry.

If you have read Whitman and read any of C.K. Williams’ poetry – the review is simple: "Masters at work (or is that play)!"

I had the opportunity to meet C.K. W
I mostly read this to make sure that I wasn't missing too much in Whitman. It turned out to be an excellent read in itself, a celebration of Whitman's work and life.
Countless books have been written about Walt Whitman and I haven't read very many of them, but this one is noteworthy because of it's clear focus on Whitman's poetry and celebration of his work. I found this quote interesting:
"It's essential to keep in mind that in poetry the music comes first, before everything else, everything (italicized) else: until the poem has found its music, it's merely verbal matter, information. Thought, meaning, vision, the very words, come after the music has been e
cras culture
"Light it up like the city at night
Old dark bones in the city
Old Walt Whitman
and borrowed alcohol"
-Trampled By Turtles, "Walt Whitman"

Gregory Soderberg
I read this for a writing project I'm doing for Veritas Press. C.K. Williams is a noted American poet, and he captures the genius, and the challenge, of Whitman in this slim volume. From a Christian point of view, there is lots to reject in Whitman, but he was a poet of undoubted insight and power. He's been immensely influential in modern (and post-modern) letters, so we must reckon with him. Even those (like T.S. Eliot) who rejected him, also seem to have been influenced by him.
Joe Starnes
This was the best book I've read about a poet. I sampled on my Kindle and initially didn't anticipate buying it, but it was so compelling and readable that I bought it and very much enjoyed. Made me appreciate Whitman's poetry, but also understand his signficance as a major figure in American literature and his influence on many, many important writers. Anyone with even a passing interest in Whitman should read this.
This is one of the very best of the Writers on Writers short biographies. Williams helps us understand in richer ways than I had previously imagined the immensity of Whitman's breakthrough in the first edition of "Leaves of Grass," as well the incomparable beauty of his poems.
Daniel Klawitter
A really enjoyable read for such a short book. William's devotion to Whitman is undisguised, and he is a very perceptive reader of not just Whitman's poetry, but of Whitman's place in the canon and the influence he has exercised on poets in America and around the world.
Martin Cerjan
Very enjoyable. Now I want to read and re-read Walt. How to approach such a huge subject? Personally--and with great affection. This little book made me remember how great some of Whitman's lines are. I, too, believe he had a huge influence. Like nothing before him.
Lauren Albert
An exclamation of wonder. How did Whitman come to write his unexpected masterpiece? Williams seems to just be observing the impossibility of explaining this as he shares with the reader his delight in reading Whitman.
Excellent insight and analysis of the works of an unique artist.
Jack Goodstein
Little book with little new--more often impressionistic in its critique than analytical. Main virtue is a lot of material from the poems and prose for such a little book.
Wonderful and (as you would imagine) poetic primer on Whitman. Williams makes some lovely and moving points about Whitman's deep and joyful artistry and lingual acrobatics.
Randy Cauthen
A little disappointing. Nothing really new.
Quick read. Enjoyable personal reaction to Leaves of Grass. Among many other things: one remembers that Whitman not only wrote scenes in which he seems to be having erotic encounters with other men, he also wrote a scene in which he seems to be having an erotic encounter with the ocean. Very deftly, lightly depoliticized. Very much enjoyed Williams' deep reaction to Whitman's gregarious, enthusiastic views on immortality, and chuckled at his obligatory 'not that I believe in any of that mumbo ju ...more
Chase marked it as to-read
Jan 01, 2015
Karolina marked it as to-read
Dec 29, 2014
Terry Everett
Terry Everett marked it as to-read
Nov 05, 2014
Sandra marked it as to-read
Oct 29, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
C.K. Williams was born and grew up in and around Newark, New Jersey. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in philosophy and English. He has published many books of poetry, including Repair, which was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, The Singing which won the National Book Award for 2003, and Flesh and Blood, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Prize in 1987 ...more
More about C.K. Williams...
Repair Collected Poems The Singing Flesh and Blood Selected Poems

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »