Walt Whitman's "specimen days" and the discovery of the disability memoir

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2 Scopus citations


This essay joins genre with thesis in exploring the relationship between lyric poetry and disability. It examines Whitman's preoccupation with the health of the body politic in his earlier work and contrasts it to "Specimen Days," a lyric collage that recounts his increasing paralysis after a stroke. Whitman's discovery of lyric prose, first as a hospice nurse and then in his disability memoir, represents the creation of a "wholly conscious rendering of altered physicality in prose." Such prose is necessary to survival: it translates the crisis of "extremities of subjectivity" and the "outer circumstances" of disability (which often includes pain, suffering, poverty, and violence). Such claiming of disability is the "successful transition from static language into the language of momentum." The author's implications profoundly resonate for disability studies scholars. He writes: "We are in a hurry. We must tell the truth about the catastrophe that is human consciousness.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-162
Number of pages8
JournalProse Studies
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • "Specimen Days"
  • American Civil War
  • Autobiography
  • Disability
  • Disability studies
  • Essay
  • Lyric
  • Memoir
  • Narrative
  • Poetics
  • Poetry
  • Walt Whitman
  • War diaries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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