Walt Whitman chases fame, Verse and Vision, libraries, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, June 7, 2019

June 10, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, June 7, 2019.



Celebrations of great moments and memories in the history of the United States continue during these weeks with Memorial Day, followed by D-Day (June 6), Flag Day (June 14), and then July the Fourth. Each of these times calls for clear-eyed reflection and assessment of our history, both good and bad, and for a pledge to turn our history into a better future. In this way, I think that anniversaries are good for us all.

With so many suggestions for a brand name for the poetry/painting videos that I have been producing lately, I had a bit of a struggle deciding on just one. But, for better or worse, the decision was made, and you can read about it below.

After a couple of weeks of unseasonably hot and dry weather around here, we’re finally getting some rain and cooler temperatures in East Tennessee. They are very welcome here, particularly in the garden.

Stay safe, and have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,793 subscribers and had a 28.5 percent open rate; 11 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Walt Whitman’s calculated plan to achieve the fame he wanted

Walt Whitman (whose 200th birthday we celebrated briefly last week) was 35 years old in 1854 with no job and no prospects. He knew, however, that he wanted to be a poet — a famous poet.

He was well on the way to being a poet. He had already written much of his seminal work, Leaves of Grass. It was the famous part that eluded him.

Whitman, who was living with family in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, at the time, had tried to interest publishers in his work and had had no success. He typeset ten pages of Leaves of Grass on a typesetter owned by some friends in Brooklyn and then ran off and bound 200 copies. He tried peddling them to bookstores but failed. He then got a company that sold phrenology and health-fad books to take it on.

By then it was 1855, and sales of his work were miserable to non-existent. What reviews there were panned the book as obscene because of its sexual language and overtones.

Still, Whitman persisted.

He wrote three anonymous reviews of the book himself, heaping praise on it as a truly “American bard at last.” He sent a copy to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the great American essayist responded with a thank you letter that called the poetry “free and brave thought.” The letter was a private one, not meant for publication, but Whitman published it anyway, giving it to the editor of the New York Daily Tribune without Emerson’s permission.

As Elaine Showalter writes in a recent article in the New York Review of Books:

It was the beginning of Whitman’s huge success, not only as a poet, but also a marketing genius and self-publicist. Whitman’s celebration of himself and promotion of his brand has drawn comparisons with the showman P.T. Barnum, the “Shakespeare of Advertising,” whose autobiography was published the same year as Leaves of Grass. Source: Whitman, Melville, & Julia Ward Howe: A Tale of Three Bicentennials | by Elaine Showalter | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

Whitman continued to market himself throughout the rest of his life, carefully cultivating the image of the all-American poet, rough-hewn but also profound and insightful with a poetic voice unlike any that had ever been heard before.

Podcast: The Shrink Next Door

Bloomberg News has leapt into the true crime podcast pool with a fascinating and very listenable series called The Shrink Next Door. It is co-produced by Wondery, the same folks who brought you Dirty John, so the production values on this thing are pretty high.

The series tells the story of reporter Joe Nocera’s move to a small house in Southampton, N.Y., and what he found out about the people who lived next door. There was a psychiatrist named Dr. Isaac Steven Herschkopf, who sometimes went by Isaac Stevens and whom everyone called Ike. There was also a man named Marty Markowitz. As Nocera writes on the site for the first episode:

My wife and I assumed the house was Ike’s. His name was on the mailbox, after all, and the doormat. “All those years we thought Ike was the owner,” said our neighbor Jackie Giat.

Eventually, a different picture began to emerge. Markowitz wasn’t the house’s maintenance man; he was the owner. And Herschkopf? He had been a lot of things to Markowitz over the years. As I began to pull at the threads of their relationship, I found a tangle of ties between them — business, financial, personal.

But first, before anything else, Herschkopf had been Markowitz’s psychiatrist.

And thereby hangs the tale.

I have listened to three episodes so far and have grown mightily interested in this complex story of power and control.

Try it, and see what you think: https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2019-the-shrink…

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

What good are libraries? How should they be run? The response continues

A couple of weeks ago, after my rant about the possibility of our county government shirking its responsibilities in not adequately funding our excellent local library, I included some provocative questions about libraries from newsletter reader Frank C. You can read those questions in this separate post.

I invited you to respond, and many of you did. Last week the newsletter included a long response from Jennifer S., a faithful reader and good friend. Here are some more responses.

Jane B.: I’m a former librarian, and Frank’s thoughts on change didn’t sit well with me. His first question was galling because every single citizen pays taxes, which is the majority of public library funding. I’m a very direct person, which is one reason I’m a former librarian, and I’m all in favor of putting a sign on the front stating exactly his much each citizen pays in taxes to support the library.

Frank also comes at this from a classist stance: not everyone can afford an e-reader & buy books. A college professor raised this question in Richmond 20 years — close the city library system and everyone go to Barnes & Noble — and was floored by the blowback. He didn’t receive tenure.
I can’t address his entire argument, and I know libraries have to adjust to the times, but I don’t believe the day will come where they’re not needed.

Barbara H.: I think Frank C. makes the assumption that library users are all affluent!  I cross the county line to attend Kent County (MD) Public Library Main Branch, where many patrons are poverty level or below.  Computer access allows them to job hunt and books, including for children, allow them take-home entertainment.

Becky B.: Never charge for enrichment, i.e. like libraries, because taxpayers have already paid for the services and why make it more difficult to expand our minds. Booster club and crowdfunding are excellent ways to maintain public access. Many local people have a passion for maintaining enrichment programs. A library can save a borderline kid who may be about to plunge into a life of crime. Just the smell of our local library brought many books to life for me. 
Rev O.: Libraries continue to be needed and very useful, especially if they adapt to the times.  Just one example: I’m old, living on a very limited income, and simply can’t afford at any price to buy the several hundred books I read each year.  Free e-books help, and I do permit myself to buy the occasional box set (6 or more books at .99 is my guideline), but without libraries, I can’t get many of my most beloved authors’ works.  Many, many books also simply are not in e-book format yet; some probably never will be. Our library permits “checking out” e-books as well as hard copy (not to mention music and videos).  They also have many meeting rooms as a vibrant community center, encourage volunteers for such activities as reading to kids; they have rotating art/craft galleries showcasing local works and collections. Of course, they still do what libraries have always done; help patrons with research or such things as finding a favorite book/author whose name they can’t quite recall. They undoubtedly do a lot more, but I can’t think of the other things offhand. Our town built an entirely new facility in the past couple of years, with enthusiastic local support for the expenditure, because of the promise of expanded services and usefulness.

Poems and Paintings — the videos

The nominations have been proposed, the votes are in, and a decision has been made. The brand name for the poetry/painting videos that I have been making for the past couple of months is Verse and Vision. The name was suggested by newsletter reader Mike C., and Mike will receive one of my hand-turned wooden pens as a thank you. So will a couple of other readers who made excellent suggestions.

One of the reasons for a brand name is that I want to put a series of these videos onto Amazon Prime, so that prime subscribers can view them. To do that, you have to satisfy certain content and technical requirements, and that includes having a brand name and logo. I am going to work this summer on figuring out the other requirements — Amazon doesn’t make it easy — making new videos, and re-editing some of the older ones.

I will keep you posted on how things are going.

Here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:

O Captain, My Captain by Walt Whitman: http://bit.ly/whitman-ocaptain

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott: http://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar

Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvellhttp://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellowhttp://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/NPM-Poe-AnnabelLee

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Grayhttp://bit.ly/gray-elegy

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browninghttp://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poehttp://bit.ly/poe-theraven

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespearehttp://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18

And more are on the way.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Walt Whitman
Watch a video of this painting coming together with Jim reciting O Captain, My Captainhttp://bit.ly/whitman-ocaptain

Best quote of the week:

“The master is content to serve as an example and not to impose her will.” Tao Te Ching

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Sir Walter Scott writes himself out of debt, more on libraries, competing definitions of journalism: newsletter, May 31, 2019



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