Just last year, I’m amazed to say, Norton published a new book of mine, What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life. “Amazed” not because Norton was willing to publish an admittedly odd hybrid of biography, memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and meditation, but by two things that have surprised me about this book, each quite unlike any experience I’ve had with other volumes.

First, I finished it, which was by no means a given. Twenty years ago, after I published a couple of essays on Whitman’s poems, a friend said, “Oh, you’re writing a book on Whitman.” In all honesty, this had not occurred to me, but the moment I heard it, I felt that it was true. For a year and a half, I read everything on the poet I could find, until I knew I could take in no more.