Live Oak, With Moss


Walt Whitman’s secret same-sex love poems

Newly illustrated by Brian Selznick

With an afterword by Whitman scholar Karen Karbiener

As he was turning forty, Walt Whitman wrote twelve poems in a small handmade book he entitled “Live Oak, With Moss.” The poems were intensely private reflections on his attraction to and affection for other men. They were also Whitman’s most adventurous explorations of the theme of same-sex love, composed decades before the word “homosexual” came into use.

After writing “Live Oak, With Moss,” he cut up the poems, rearranged them, and hid them in the “Calamus” cluster of poems in the third edition of “Leaves of Grass.” This revolutionary, extraordinarily beautiful and passionate cluster of poems was never published by Whitman and has remained unknown to the general public—until now.


Brian Selznick befriended legendary children’s book illustrator, Maurice Sendak, who told him the story of Live Oak, With Moss, Whitman’s deeply personal love poems. Selznick created a puppet show inspired by these poems withoriginal music by Robert Een. The show debuted in 2009 at the Here Arts Center in New York City. Video of the performance can be seen, above.

Whitman Notebook

One of the original poems from Live Oak, with Moss that Whitman had already begun to edit, and retitle in his personal journal.

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New York Times bestselling and Caldecott Award–winning illustrator Brian Selznick offers a provocative visual narrative for this work.


Original paintings by Brian Selznick for Live Oak, With Moss.

“But how could I illustrate poems when Maurice Sendak himself had said poems should not be illustrated? The drawings here aren’t meant to be illustrations of the poems, but a framework, or a lens, through which they can be discovered.” –Brian Selznick

Learn more below about the Whitman bi-centennial celebrations, and join us in celebrating!

Whitman Bicentennial Events by on Scribd


April 30 – San Diego, CA Warwick's/Diversionary Theatre
May 11 – Toronto, Canada Toronto Comic Arts Festival
June 11 – Brooklyn, NY Brooklyn Historical Society
Oct 15 – Los Angeles, CA UCLA