Walt Whitman published only one book of poems in his 73 years of life.
It was, however, 450 pages long and published in six American editions by the time Whitman died.
In celebration of Whitman’s work, about 50 students came and went throughout the day on Friday, beginning at dawn, to read his book “Leaves of Grass.”
Some students sat on blankets, while others found a spot in the grass and listened to the work by the man some consider one of the greatest American writers.
“This is a marathon of Walt Whitman’s book ‘Leaves of Grass.’ This work is one of the more important American works of all time,” Elk Rapids senior John Priest said.
Whitman was the inventor of free verse poetry, Priest said.
“There really isn’t any holiday connected to why we picked today. We just enjoying reading in the fall, and we started around 7:20 in the morning, and people just come and go as they please,” he said.
This is the fifth year Professor of English Language and Literature Robert Fanning has held the event.
“I just enjoy hearing Whitman’s work. I just come out here and listen to different people reading his book out loud,” Mecosta junior J.C Taber said. “It is nice to just come out and enjoy the weather and hear people; it gives you a sense of the poem and what it stands for.”
All were welcome to sit and enjoy Whitman’s poetry, not just creative writing majors.
“I highly enjoy ‘Leaves of Grass,’ especially since it is written by Whitman himself,” Taber said.
The casual atmosphere reflected students’ busy schedules, Fanning said.
“I try to read (‘Leaves of Grass’) every year, so doing it with others is cool to experience,” Fanning said. “We do it just because we love Whitman and the book itself.”
About 15 showed up at dawn for the reading, the largest group the event has had in its five years.
“What is great about Whitman is he appeals to everyone — not just poetry readers,” Fanning said. Whitman’s poems transcend the ages. He tries to set the universe in words.”
“Leaves of Grass” was Fanning’s grandmother’s favorite book, he said, remembering when she would read it to him when he was younger.
“Some poems and books are just lost throughout generations, but this book will be kept alive here at Central Michigan University,” he said.