“Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
~ Walt Whitman ~
I’ve been avoiding the news recently. The headlines are overwhelming and depressing. I feel helpless to make any meaningful contribution to changing the tenor of our times. But the world is full of antidotes to this feeling of helplessness. This week, I found several on a trek into New York City, where I was fortunate to visit two celebrations of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth.
The New York Public Library has an intimate gallery where treasures from the library’s collection are exhibited. Walt Whitman: America’s Poet is currently on view. Original copies of Whitman’s work are on display, as well as works that influenced him and books by poets from around the world who have been inspired by him. One of the most powerful pieces in the exhibit is a video by filmmaker Jennifer Crandall. Her project, Whitman, Alabama, is the result of spending two years traveling throughout Alabama, meeting and engaging with people from all walks of life. Crandall filmed these folks reading from Whitman’s great work, Leaves of Grass. The resulting film reminds us that we have much more in common than not, and our strength comes from what we share. Here is a sample.
“Song of Myself”
by Walt Whitman
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,
Read the rest here.
Leaving this exhibit, we walked down 5th Avenue, among people from “many nations,” to The Morgan Library and Museum. Here, Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy is on view. This show traces Whitman’s life and explores the influence of his early life in Brooklyn as well as his experiences as a nurse during the Civil War, among others, on his development as a poet.
Taken together, these shows gave me hope that our country can withstand and overcome the onslaughts we’re currently facing.
Please be sure to visit my good friend and critique group partner, Margaret Simon, at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Roundup.