Abstract

Although George Oppen once claimed that “Whitman has been no use to me,” a review of Oppen's poetry, letters, daybooks, and interviews reveals that Whitman was central to Oppen's poetics and to his most celebrated poem, “Of Being Numerous.” Using archival materials and recently published interviews, this essay provides a comprehensive overview of Oppen's engagement with Whitman, highlighting the sophistication and complexity of his response and addressing what Oppen meant when he described the conclusion to “Of Being Numerous” as in part “a joke on Whitman.” Using him variously as foil, icon, compatriot, and source text, Oppen presents a version of Whitman at odds with both the critical responses of previous modernists and the more enthusiastic interpretations of Oppen's contemporaries in the 1950s and 1960s.

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