Walt Whitman of Cosmic Folklore

review in Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 2012

Emerson famously said that Leaves of Grass resembled a mixture of the Bhagavad Gita and the New York Herald; so Alan Botsford, one of Whitman’s “poets to come,” combines in Walt Whitman of Cosmic Folklore poetry, criticism, dialogues, myths and folktales, hip-hop rhymes, and postmodern surfaces interwoven with the wit and wisdom of Whitman’s visionary embrace of the reader. (continue) reviews

a new kind of book about whitman! 

This is the best book about Uncle Walt to appear in a long time. Free of jargon and arch, critical poses, Alan Botsford (a poet, himself) approaches Whitman afresh, with open heart and mind, and, taking us along, explores the spiritual/corporeal terrain that develops between Whitman and his sympathetic readers. The book begins with interviews with Whitman, conducted by the book’s persona–lively, humorous and wise dialogues that successfully capture Whitman’s voice and presence.

The middle section includes some of the best critical essays written about Walt Whitman. In “Whitman and Us,” my personal favorite, Botsford says this:

“Indeed, in its generosity of spirit, its abundance of love, its depth of wisdom, Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ offers readers an order of experience different from what we would expect from modern works of art, for Whitman returns the work of art to its original and primary function: a vehicle of awakening, of enlightenment.’”

These are the words that much contemporary literary criticism tends to avoid.

After these enlightening essays, the third part of the book offers Botsford’s own poetry as a sympathetic response to Whitman’s work. Here we take off on our own journey through the opened terrain, upon that open road, which Botsford has helped us to discover. The voice of the poems is one refreshed and remade through its encounter with Whitman’s own voice. We hear in these poems the promise that Whitman’s poetic legacy will continue.

May 6, 2011     –  Michael Sowder

Whitman for the 21st Century  

This is an exhilarating book. Alan Botsford demonstrates, in words as direct as Whitman’s own, insights into the poetry’s spiritual nature and its relevance to the reader in this moment. His sharp language is often radically amusing, but always serious. The effect focuses one’s attention on the erotic unity of body and soul as reflected in the language of everyday, as well as in the high art of poetry. The writing utilizes our most common expressions as well as our archetypal and folkloric heritage to confirm a way forward for the individual and for the society he or she affects. These insights heal and promote growth for the reader in moments of breathtaking clarity.

Clearly, Botsford’s aim, like Whitman’s, is transformative. In poems, essays, and dialogues, he reveals an understanding of the world anchored in a reading of “Leaves of Grass” that reconciles the seeming paradox of matter and spirit, life and death, and self and other. Not through argument but through art, through insight and sensitivity. In images, too, of transformation occurring through commerce between self and other, in crisis, and in confrontation with death.

This book deserves a place beside C. K. Williams’ wonderful new book “On Whitman.” What a banner year this is for Walt Whitman, and for the “United States of the Soul.”

Aug. 17, 2010 –  James Gurley



mamaist: learning a new language

from Kyoto Journal #57, 2004, Kyoto, Japan

mamaist: learning a new language may be one of the first books of poems to transpire from our global civilization. Appropriately enough, the author presents it as a new language, one he calls mamaist. But there is no manifesto here, rather a joyful romp in language that is constructive rather than destructive, nurturing rather than negative. In other words, it’s mamaist, not Dadaist.

The first poem, daringly called “Nothing,” opens combatively: “I have nothing to say for myself./ I believe in nothing…” It then continues for fifty-nine lines of verbal slapstick, handing the reader all the takes on “nothing” that constitute our routine responses to humdrum life. When all aspects of “nothing” seem to be explored, the last five lines take a turn that will astonish anyone whose mind is alert to the spiritual dimensions of the language of Being, whether that person’s connection to it is Buddhist, Hindu or the mystical expressions of Christian, Judaic or Islamic traditions. There is even room for the purely secular impulse. Clearly to do this is a major achievement.

By associating the worldview of these poems with any of the dominant religious traditions, I am not suggesting that Botsford’s point of view derives from any of them. Rather, it is precisely the lack of obvious “sources” that justifies identifying these poems with what has been perceived as an emerging global awareness, one that recognizes all life on this planet as radically interconnected and interdependent.

The arrangement of the twenty-eight poems offers a glimpse of the poet’s experiences that formed mamaist language. In the second poem the reader meets “the poet after being called to his vocation.” From there one follows along through various conditions and situations that the poet confronts as he lives his world and learns its language. The poem which, for this reader, contains the most hilarious confrontation of all, is the story of “U and I” who skate along on the absurdity of language as it bends, or is bent, to reveal the meaning of words in a reality not normally seen.

You don’t know where you have been in these poems until after you get there. This makes re-reading another trip, and one with manifold rewards. It is a journey of discovery, that seems to surprise the poet as much as the reader.

Two years ago, on the basis of these poems as published in journals, Botsford, who lives in Kamakura and teaches at Kanto Gakuin University, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. This first book is, I believe, an important beginning for an important writer. The distinctive quality of voice and the content of his work possesses a moral tone that revels in the birth of words and meaning. One would do well to heed the first line of “Dadirdydebil”: “Now reader, hold fast-you’re in for a crude awakening!”

Perhaps this is what we need now, an Awakening that is fun. This is a most exciting book, humorous, revealing, and profoundly serious.

– James Gurley


from From the Marrow #49, Bone World Publishing, January 2004, Russell, New York

MAMAIST-learning a new language by Alan Botsford: Botsford really digs down into language itself & plucks some true gems from the morass of words. It looks like Mamaism is the complementary opposite of Dadaism, the anti-artistic movement spearheaded by Tristan Tzara & the boys following the horrors of World War One. Dada delighted in fracturing the sensory world into shards & meaningless phenomena. Mama wants to put it all back together like a loving mother, finding connections between everything everywhere & giving meaning to it all. Some of these are simply so clever, when levels of meaning engulf & nearly overwhelm the reader, as wave after wave of syntax & buried connections emerge.

– John Berbrich Editor, Barbaric Yawp

from Hawai’i Pacific Review 2003 Hawai’i Pacific University, Hawai’i, USA

What does the term “mamaist” mean? It has yet to be defined in any dictionary. In the book entitled “mamaist: learning a new language,” we see the author try to give the term definition by using it frequently within his book. It was written by Alan Botsford, a teacher at Kanto Gakuin Univeristy in Yokohama, Japan. Botsford was a 2001 Pushcart nominee for poetry and has numerous works published throughout America and Japan. He holds an M.F.A. in poetry, which he obtained from Columbia University.


The title itself prepares the reader for what lurks within the pages of Botsford’s book. It is confusion that reigns among the various poems’ titles containing the word “mamaist,” that drives the reader crazy because the reader must define the term “mamaist” for himself. What is a “mamaist,” as defined by the author? Botsford attempts to define what a mamaist is, by the random actions taking place within the poems. But these actions are ambiguous and random, so no clear-cut definition can be made by these titles alone. There are eighteen of his poems that seek to define “mamaist” by using them within their lines. But in using them in his titles, “mamaist” appears nothing more than an adjective. It has no clear definition, for how can you define a “mamaist,” with titles like “a mamaist vehicle”? What type of vehicle is this, and how does a mamaist operate it?

The poem that gives the closest definition to understanding what a “mamaist” is comes from the poem “a mamaist’s ten-most wanted”. The list of terms, numbering ten, consist of made-up words that would make sense if the reader understands the suffixes of the words. Words like “cosmosis,” “martyrealize,” and “resourcerer” fill the list. These words all sound like they could possibly be forgotten words in a dictionary, but alas, they have no definitions. In looking at the word “cosmosis,” one would think of everything in the universe being in harmony because it is all blended together. With the words being of no help, the term “mamaist” still leaves the reader dumbfounded by its lack of clarity, but mesmerized by the content presented.


– Chad Garcia

from The Walt Whitman Society of Japan Newsletter No. 20, 2004

Alan Botsford Saitoh:
mamaist learning a new language
(Minato No Hito: Kamakura, Japan 2002 55 pages)

William I. Elliott and Alan Botsford Saitoh
A Book of Shadows
(Katydid Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2003 80 pages)

American Writing, Barbaric Yawp, Confrontation Magazine, Edge, HEArt, The Plaza, River Styx などの雑誌に発表したものをまとめたものです。

Alan Botsford 氏は、ポスト-モダン詩人の立場から今日的な視点で過去の偉大な詩人の業績を再評価しつつ、新たな「格付け」(混沌に意味を与えるという詩人の特権)作業 に果敢に挑み、丁寧に、そして微笑ましいほどに、これらの詩集をとおして、詩作しています。
詩集 mamaist の中で、自己の憧れの対象として、 ”one who has manly wit:Whitman” と書いています。

– 会報編集部
(the editors)


Minato No Hito 003, 2004. 10 Autumn Issue Kamakura, Japan

鮮やかなコバルトブルーの瀟洒な詩集である。彼は現在日本在住だが、コロンビア大でMaster of Fine Artsの称号を得、日米両国において多くの作品を発表している。英語によるこの「mamaist」には副題にlearning a new languageとあるように、斬新な試み、言葉を楽しくあやつる魔術師の冴えた意図、センスがあり実に楽しい。しかし単なる遊びに終わらず、ここの言葉 の背後に秘められた多様ま意が隠されている。さして自在に遊泳する言葉が、即ち命を産み出すmamaistと一体化すると、作者は確信と自負を持っている のだ.一見無作為に選ばれたような言葉が次第に宇宙へと広がり、いつしか互いに機能し有機的関係をつくっている。摩訶不思議な言葉の可能性を感じる。無限 の空間をのびやかに動きまわる言葉は羽毛のように軽やかだ。つい乗せられ、巧妙に仕組まれた彼の知的ポエムの迷宮にまんまとハメられるのである。言葉の持 つ本来の枠を取り去った新時空に光を当てようと試みている。タイトルも謎めいている。「nothing」「a mamaist stalker」「a mamaist gloss」など。「nothing」はI have nothing to say for myself. I believe in nothingとはじまるがラストはafter all, nothing is sacredと結ばれている。神聖なものなんて結局ありはしない、常に物事は変化しつつあるのだか、と言った意が含まれているのに気づきホッと解放され る.開かれた世界がここにはある。俗念、概念の類をとりはらった時、人は自由に目覚める。個として自由を内包しているのだ.君は君であり私は私なのだ、そ れが自然のあるべき姿だと。常に気前よくおおらかに開かれた世界がくりひろげられていて、読者は快く日常の呪縛からとき放たれ、性急にページをめくってし まう。「a mamaist stalker」の/against the current round and round, passing you/もしかり。何事があろうとも思いのままに、己の時間を認識し、生きるのだ、との思いが垣間見られて、水のように形なく、形にとらわれることなくあ りたい息づかいを感じる。簡潔な文体も読み易く、深遠の理を含んでいるにもかかわらず、清冽な世界が抵抗なく伝わってくる。

– 本吉 洋子
(Motoyoshi Yoko)