When William Michael Rossetti, a friend and former publisher for Walt Whitman, redacted all instances of erotica both visually and linguistically from Leaves of Grass due to Whitman's sexuality, Whitman responded, “I’d say even to dear Rossetti, all or nothing.” and then printed and bound the book, circulating the uncensored version himself instead.
The How Poetry Freed Type conference was meant to embody the transhumanist values of the 19th century free verse poetry movement. Whitman brought American audiences a unique hand-made book representative of freedom, equality, and fresh simplicity.
“I sometimes find myself more interested in book making than in book writing,” he once said; “the way books are made—that always excites my curiosity: the way books are written—that only attracts me once in a great while, having been a printer myself,”
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How Poetry Freed Type Animation
Letterpress technology's rapid advances with the invention of higher-speed presses and typecasting machines gave poets cheaper access to do their own printing. This allowed avantgarde experimentation (especially the like of Parisian poet Apollinaire, and American humanists like Walt Whitman and Emerson) with typography and an ability to put pressure on word as image (rather than as music, as poetry functioned prior). This typographic/poetic experimentation crystallized a theoretical opportunity. Ultimately, free verse poets like Walt Whitman meaningfully worked for freedom through typography in America.
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Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Carl Sandburg, H. D., Allen Ginsberg, and many other poets were greatly influenced by Whitman and his decision to abandon the "metronome" in search of a freer musical cadence in poetry. But Whitman was more than just a poet; as Pound said, "He is America." When we consider how Americans as a people have become increasingly tolerant of racial, class, sexual, and other diversities, we see them responding to Whitman's poetic and prophetic call for universal brotherhood and tolerance. In fact, the first people to publish Whitman again were William Thayer and Charles Eldridge, radical abolitionists who dedicated their business to antislavery. Pound called Whitman "the first great man to write in the language of his people". It was not only Whitman's language that was unequivocally pushing equality, acceptance and tolerance, it was also his printmaking, his type-setting, his design, his life's work as a whole.
Because of the books' illicit circulation, taboo content, and focus on living a free and honest life, Leaves of Grass has become a popular symbol for classic American freedom and liberty. Even appearing in pop culture, hit TV series Breaking Bad uses a replica of the first edition, this was the first copy and the only that was solely printed and bound by hand by Walt Whitman himself.