Election Day

November 3, 2020

ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884.
By Walt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the
still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

. . . . .
Thanks to Roger Gilman for the suggestion.

July 4, 1855

July 4, 2020

There may have been many other notable events on July 4, 1855, but we mark two in particular: the New York state legislature passed an early prohibition law (struck down by its Supreme Court soon after) and Walt Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass at the Brooklyn print shop of James and Andrew Rome. Whitman continued to revise the text for the remaining three-plus decades of his life. Read it on Project Gutenberg. And auspicious Fourth to you.

Walt does the heavy lifting

September 21, 2019

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) honored the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman with a new stamp in its Literary Arts series. The 85-cent stamp is intended for domestic First-Class Mail weighing up to 3 ounces. The stamp was issued on September 12, 2019, at the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site in Huntington Station, New York. More information here.

And as long as we’re on the subject, we should mention that Canada Post is honoring Leonard Cohen with three stamps featuring the poet/artist during different phases of his 60-year career. The new stamps will be available to the public today, September 21, which would have been Cohen’s 85th birthday. Further details in the Montreal Gazette.

looking ahead

November 20, 2018

We’ve mentioned the Poetry Coalition several times before. Now the Academy of American Poets has announced the theme for the Coalition’s third year of programming to take place nationwide throughout March 2019. Programs in 11 cities will explore the theme “What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy.”

The question “What is it, then, between us?” is an excerpt from the poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” by Walt Whitman. In addition to Whitman being recognized as a poet whose work forged a new kind of American poetry, which both expresses democratic ideals and contains painful truths about our country’s origin, throughout 2019, many libraries, museums, schools, and cultural organizations will be marking the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth, which took place on May 31, 1819.

These are culturally important conversations. Local programming related to the theme is encouraged. Watch for more information on events in the region and follow developments at #PoetryCoalition and @Poetsorg.

Whitman, musically

April 23, 2017

A new Kickstarter project is currently seeking modest funds to complete the budget for a symphonic poem for soprano and orchestra. Composer Rob Goorhuis will write the score for Walt Whitman’s poem A Child Said, What Is The Grass from Leaves of Grass.

The world premiere of the completed work will be performed by the Dutch Fanfare Orchestra with soprano Fenna Ograjensek at the Dutch National Championships Finals on November 12, 2017, in Enschede, The Netherlands. Read more on Kickstarter.

projects we love

February 21, 2017

Whitman, Alabama

Whitman, Alabama is an experiment using documentary film and poetry to reveal the threads that tie us together — as people, as states, and as a nation.

For two years, filmmaker Jennifer Crandall has crisscrossed Alabama and invited people to look into a camera and share a part of themselves by reading the words of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

Read Kathleen Rooney’s introduction, “Making the Words Ours.” Visit the Whitman, Alabama, website, where you can learn more and watch the videos. Keep up with the latest on the Whitman, Alabama Facebook page.

on the drawing board

November 10, 2016

Bjarke Ingels Group

The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and his firm, BIG, were commissioned to design 2WTC, the last of four buildings to border the 9/11 Memorial Park in New York City. The structure is currently completed only to street level, but the drawings can be viewed online.

Of the many options for the building’s main entry, it’s interesting and heartening to see that the designers chose poetry to adorn the huge wall. In what looks (from the rendering) to be illuminated letters, there are three lines from the opening stanza and four lines from the eleventh verse of Walt Whitman’s “Salut au Monde” from Leaves of Grass.

picturing poetry

November 9, 2016

Kim Addonizio-by-B.A. Van Sise

Today might be a good day to look at pictures. Here are two suggestions:

On PBS NewsHour, view a selection of photographs of poets by B.A. Van Sise. The photographer, who is a descendant of Walt Whitman, has created a series of portraits, Whitman’s Descendants, each based on a poem by the individual portrayed. The collection is apparently slated for publication.

At the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the LaVerne Harrell Clark Photographic Collection now offers more than a thousand previously unpublished photographs of poets, taken between 1960 and 2007. Clark was a photographer and the original director of the Poetry Center. After her death, her collection of some 12,000 negatives and prints of poet portraits were donated to the Poetry Center.

. . . . .
Kim Addonizio appears in a portrait based on her poem “First Poem for You.” Photo by B.A. Van Sise.
Read “First Poem for You”

massive Whitman

June 9, 2016

Whitman's Civil War

Now and then, we post about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are free college-level courses offered online. The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa has just announced a new MOOC: Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster. Running July 18 through September 5, 2016, the MOOC “will embark upon a journey through Walt Whitman’s writings on the American Civil War. Through Whitman’s lens, we will explore how writing and image can be used to examine war, conflict, trauma, and reconciliation — in Whitman’s time and today.”

The course will be taught by Ed Folsom, Whitman scholar and University of Iowa Roy J. Carver Professor of English; and Christopher Merrill, IWP Director and University of Iowa Professor of English (and poet). It will include instructional videos, readings, assignments and live discussions. The instructors “estimate that this will require 5 or more hours of your time per week.”

For information and registration, visit the course page on NovoEd.

page by page

May 31, 2016

Walt Whitman - Earliest and most important notebook

Among the treasures held by the Library of Congress, the Thomas B. Harned collection of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) papers offers an unguarded glance into the poet’s process. According to the notes by Alice L. Birney that introduce the collection, the notebooks “feature personal philosophy, poetry trial lines, notes on Civil War scenes, notations on needs of wounded soldiers in Washington hospitals, names and addresses.”

There’s a bit of mystery around the collection that sounds like a poetry prompt in itself. Harned was one of Whitman’s three literary executors. He donated some 3,000 items to the Library in 1918. After “a 1942 wartime evacuation of treasures” (to repositories in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia, among other places) ten of the Whitman notebooks in the Harned collection “went missing.” Four of them were returned in 1995 after they were brought to Sotheby’s for evaluation. Six are still missing. Read the story here.

While Whitman’s notebooks have been transcribed into various books, the LOC collection allows the viewer to browse each one page by page, seeing, for example, the earliest drafts of lines from “Song of Myself” in Whitman’s hand. There are some 98,000 items in the LOC Whitman collection. View Recovered Notebooks from the Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection here.
. . . . .
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