I hear America singing…
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs
-Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing
Across America, people are singing songs in praise of Walt Whitman’s (1819-1892) bicentennial, with exhibitions and conferences dedicated to this renowned American poet sprouting like so many leaves of grass.
Though he called Brooklyn home long before it was chic to do so, Walt Whitman, son of a carpenter and eventual grammar school dropout was born on May 31, 1819 in West Hill, New York. Called the Poet of Democracy and father of free verse, Whitman’s work celebrated America, even calling the US “the greatest poem.” His work Leaves of Grass (1855) is considered a pillar of American poetry and has influenced the work of later poets. Whitman’s Drum-Taps (1865) includes Whitman’s elegy for President Lincoln.
Over 50 organizations are hosting Whitman-related events and exhibitions are happening all year. Below, a few to come:
February 20th - July 27th
160 McCormick Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22904
UVA’s Small Special Collections Library is currently showing “Encompassing Multitudes: The Song of Walt Whitman” that displays a variety of his work including first printings, early drafts of his poems, letters, and photography.
10 First St SE, Washington, DC 20540
By the People Crowdsourcing Campaign
April 24th – June
A crowdsourcing campaign called “By the People” was recently launched by the LOC to transcribe Whitman’s works. The collection includes drafts of his poems and is a great way for people to engage with his work.
Whitman Bicentennial Display
May 16-August 15
The Library is displaying five cases of Whitman’s work and ephemera in the Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibition will present items from the LOC’s own collection covering Whitman’s life as a child through his death as well as his legacy.
On Wednesday, June 19th, “Calamus at Sea: A Celebration of Poetry and Pride on the Deck of Mary A. Whalen” takes place from 7-8:30 at Pier 11 Atlantic Basin (closest address is 190 Pioneer Street.) In partnership with Portside New York, this event celebrates Whitman’s maritime-inspired poems featuring selections of Calamus poems.
225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
June 7 - September 15
The Morgan is hosting “Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy” that “explores Whitman’s process of self-invention, from his early years as a journalist, through the early 1850s when Whitman began to write more privately and poetically, to his final years.” The exhibition also includes his notebooks, the famous letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson writing favorably about Leaves of Grass to Walt Whitman and documents from famous writers of the time including Federico García Lorca, and others who were influenced by his work.
246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746
From August 9-11, the Walt Whitman Birthplace will host the Walt Whitman International Conference. The keynote address will be given by Ed Folsom, Ph.D., The Roy J. Carver Professor of English from the University of Iowa who has written several Whitman books including Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song and Walt Whitman’s Native Representations.
The Bard of Democracy lives on through his poetry and through the events dedicated to his work. More events can be found at: http://waltwhitmaninitiative.org/whitman-2019-consortium/
Elisa Shoenberger is a researcher and writer. She has published articles and essays at the Boston Globe, the Rumpus, Deadspin, Syfy, and other outlets. She is a regular contributor to Book Riot and is the co-editor and co-founder of The Antelope: A Journal of Oral History and Mayhem.