Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: 'The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips' by Raymond Luczak

Raymond Luczak is a deaf, gay writer whose poetry transcends most standard boundaries to become something completely unique. In an interview Luczak stated `My deafness wasn't diagnosed until I was two and half years old. I had a hearing aid and speech therapy. I didn't learn sign language until I was 15, [and] it was Signing Exact English (SEE). I didn't know there was Deaf culture. I began to write daily after my grandmother died, so I've been at it for over 30 years. Writing was my refuge when no one in my mainstream classes wanted to interact with me.'

Perhaps in these quoted lines from his interview we gain some insight into the mysterious and often humorous and sometimes distraught approach Luczak takes in his approach to poets of the past. ‘In THE KISS OF WALT WHITMAN STILL ON MY LIPS Raymond recounts his unrequited love for a gardener while examining how Walt Whitman (1819-1892) lived as a gay man 150 years before. Inspired by the earthy passions abundant in Whitman's work and the vast social changes between his era and ours, the story becomes an urgent love letter in more ways than one.’ As one critic so aptly describes this book, "The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips is an unabashed celebration of one man's relationship to Walt Whitman: poet, publisher, lover, impromptu nurse, artistic creation, organism, man in full. Like Whitman himself, Raymond Luczak arrives at a unified vision of love in all of its poetic manifestations: sensual, sexual, and textual, a source of electric vistas and voluptuous possibilities of spiritual renewal. He provides precisely the kind of tender reassurance we cannot find words for some nights, but which we so desperately need’

The growing respect and indeed interest in Walt Whitman the man and artist is reflected in a recent article in the New York Times: ‘In 1858, when Walt Whitman sat down to write a manifesto on healthy living, he came up with advice that might not seem out of place in an infomercial today.
“Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” Whitman wrote, sounding more than a little paleo.’ A man for the ages and all seasons. And few can elicit the spirit of Whitman better than Raymond Luczak. The poems of this book are like memory circuits that become embedded in our brain, in admiration to only for Whitman but also for Luczak – one of our more brilliant poets. Like the fragments below – shades of Whitman’s thought processes re formed in Luczak’s inimitable fashion: “Things were simpler for men like us in your time”. And “What now, Walt, do you think of today’s porn stars? Their humongous cocks are perpetually stiff… They rarely smile at each other. No joy.”

This book is a brilliant little masterpiece – as are each of Raymond’s poetry collections. Illuminating! Grady Harp, April 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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