Walt Whitman and the Earth
by M. Jimmie Killingsworth
University of Iowa Press. 225 pages, $39.95
THIS BOOK had to happen at some point. Someone had to embrace Whitman as an environmentalist, and thus we have Killingsworth’s Walt Whitman and the Earth, demonstrating yet again that Whitman is larger than himself, extending beyond 19th-century America to embrace the ages. Over the past half-century, gay rights enthusiasts have worked aggressively to assimilate the good gray poet, who became the good “gay” poet on the basis of some striking lines scattered throughout his work and one large deliciously homoerotic segment: the “Calamus” poems. No need to waste one’s breath explaining to them that Whitman’s “Children of Adam” is as heteroerotic as “Calamus” is homo-: they’re convinced that Whitman spent his waking hours prowling the streets of Washington and Camden in search of day laborers for a roll in the hay. They endorse the romantic side of his liaison with Peter Doyle but dismiss as a smokescreen his own assertion that he fathered children.