First, I've never seen such a concentration of the experts on a single author in one place. Most of my bookshelf of criticism on Whitman was there--or the authors of those books. The papers were almost uniformly excellent, and there were some very eye-opening revelations about the 1855 frontispeice--I'll try to explain them in a later post, if I can find the right graphics. Talking about it doesn't do it justice.
But my favorite aspect of the conference was probably the people it attracted who /weren't/ professional scholars. The poet-Laureate of Milwaukee, Antler, was there--an extraordinary guy who writes in the Whitman vein--along with his friend, Jeff Poniewaz, also a poet and a teacher.
They could have seemed very out of place, but talking to them, I got the idea they understood Whitman as well or better than most of the people there. They told me about the role Whitman had played in their early lives and in their relationship--Whitman speaking from the book and becoming a friend to the friendless, and later helping bring them together.
Later, I talked to a guy who does Whitman impersonations for Civil War reenactments--a very cool guy--and a number of distinguished Whitman collectors, including one who uses Whitman's poetry in his medical practice.
There was a true variety of people--from hippies to Harvard professors--there. And seeing them all brought together by their interest in and sometimes love of Whitman's poetry was really something.