Laws for Creations

Walt Whitman; Selected and Introduced by Michael Cunningham




Trade Paperback

208 Pages



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In his introductory essay, Michael Cunningham recalls reading Walt Whitman's poetry for the first time: "Never before had a writer leaped off the page and touched me like that: directly, personally, erotically. It was my first experience of literature's ability to telescope time—to forcefully remind the living that the no-longer-living were not only once as alive as we are now but were capable of imagining us, and a future with us in it, as vividly as we imagine them in the past. If it didn't quite tear a hole in the fabric of mortality, it stretched it a considerable distance."
In Walt Whitman, Michael Cunningham sees a poet whose vision of humanity is sensuous, nonjudgmental, ecstatic, democratic, and transgressive. Just over one hundred years ago, Whitman was celebrating America as an idea and a nation, in the midst of great poverty, the industrial revolution, and war.
Just as the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hours drew on the life and work of English novelist Virginia Woolf, Michael Cunningham's novel, Specimen Days, makes Whitman's verse sing across time. In Laws for Creations, Cunningham celebrates what Whitman means to him, and how he appeared at the heart of his novel. Bringing together extracts from Whitman's prodigious writings, including the first and final editions of Leaves of Grass, prose from Specimen Days and Collect, and closing with the 1891-1892 preface to the "deathbed edition" of Leaves of Grass, this selection provides a highly personal introduction to one of America's greatest visionary poets, from one of our greatest contemporary novelists.   


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In college, after I gave up modeling myself on Bob Dylan (I had trouble with his conversion to Christianity) and then on Genet (I just wasn't French enough), I decided to try to become as much as possible like Walt Whitman. What propelled me was not the beauty of Whitman's language (I was an undergraduate English major; I was drowning in the beautiful language of the dead) but the following passage, which I read late one night in my dormitory room as Pink Floyd seeped through the wall from the room next to mine:
Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this
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  • Walt Whitman; Selected and Introduced by Michael Cunningham

  • Michael Cunningham was raised in Los Angeles and lives in New York City. He is the bestselling author of The Hours, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film; A Home at the End of the World; Laws for Creations; Specimen Days; Flesh and Blood; and By Nightfall.  He is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award. He is a Professor at Brooklyn College for the M.F.A program.
  • Michael Cunningham © Richard Phibbs
    Michael Cunningham