One of the fathers of free verse, Whitman writes straight from the heart. When he gets it right his work is very poignant - at other times it's like reading a laundry list.
Although first published in 1856, Leaves of Grass went through endless revisions and updates right up to and after Whitman's death in 1892. This obsession comes across in his poems which leave the reader with the feeling of being in the company of a passionate, powerful, sinewy and emotional observer of the world who is every-so-slightly unhinged.
Whitman is completely unafraid of outing his opinions whether on people, events, emotions or states of being. In an age of sexual repression he isn't frightened of earthy sexuality or of admitting to a love of beautiful men. His poems facing death and the dilemmas of a life well lived are amongst his most powerful.
The poems are all in blank verse, a relief for people like me who find rhyme a nuisance interfering with meaning (John Milton was of the same opinion). They were said by Whitman to have the same rhythm as the verses of the King James' Bible but I couldn't see that myself. At their best they are exultant and poignant shouts of delight about the human condition, whether through simple observations of ordinary folk going about their business or more deeply explored and personal observations about love and sexuality. Whitman can turn a phrase and raise a smile and whilst I wouldn't say his poems in the main were beautiful they are brave and engaging. When it goes wrong, which it does for every poet, Whitman really crashes and burns and his poetry descends into long (very long) lists of people and events, more like a set of notes than a poem. Although the individual phrases can be quite cute, they become tiring and purposeless when they roll on page after page.
This is a long book and I'm not sure it's one to take in a single attempt. Some of the poems are extremely long - song of myself has over 1350 lines. I initially bought the kindle version but found it almost unreadable and I've concluded that poetry just doesn't work on the kindle, because the publishers haven't taken care of the formatting and you can't see where you are going as with a paperback.