… still a young nation …

It was nothing less than a privilege to meet up with America’s greatest poet in his hometown, Brooklyn!

What a city!  So much happening, how to keep track? If I hadn’t happened to know an organizer, I might not have known about the Walt Whitman and the Arts in Brooklyn, held in the Library of The Brooklyn Museum on May 2.   

Most startling was mezzo-soprano Nicole Mitchell who, simply arising from her place, filled the room with her deep, gospel singer’s voice, without accompaniment and with startling power, singing Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susannah” (most popular song of the 19th Century, Whitman had written about it). 

Cascading readings from Whitman … “Old Brooklyn Days” … “Paumanok” from Leaves of Grass, “Old Time Amusement” … “A Fourth of July Patriotism” … piled up a renewed sense of the promise of America — small scale but it felt like Obama’s Inauguration.  Toward the end Mitchell sang a Whitman poem to martyrs of the American Revolution set to the music of the Star Spangled Banner — it was almost overwhelming.

Whitman’s father had seen with his own eyes some of our founding fathers, whom he idolized.  Whitman was Abraham Lincoln’s contemporary, “O Captain! My Captain!”, his most famous poem, written to express grief at Lincoln’s death, and the poet’s words continue to speak from the 19th Century to us directly in the 21st Century.  Many of his Brooklyn haunts evoked in his writings are still there.  It’s good reason to feel glad we’ve been a nation for a short enough time to hold to a complete vision.

Glad, and grateful to those who, sometimes catching us by surprise, bring us into intimate touch with the best of human aspiration and achievement.  Thanks to Principal Museum Librarian Deirdre Lawrence and readers Greg Trupiano, Lon Black and Hakim Williams for creating Walt Whitman and the Arts in Brooklyn, held Saturday, May 2 and there’s more*The Walt Whitman Project is holding its Sixth Annual Whitman Birthday Bash in Manhattan May 27 — it’s even FREE.