May 31, 2019, marks the 200th birthday of one of the most celebrated poets of all time.
May 31, 2019, marks the 200th birthday of one of the most celebrated poets of all time — Walt Whitman. There are tons of programming opportunities for both National Poetry Month (April) and beyond, so let's jump in.
Community Reading of Favorite Poems
Feel free to steal my library's program! We are having a Community Reading of Favorite Poems, an event based on former Poet Laureate Robert Pinksy’s favorite poem project.
We'll start with a few words on Whitman, his impact and legacy. Then we'll screen the Whitman Favorite Poem project video, shown below. Local poets, authors and educators will then read their favorite poems and talk a bit about why they like them, followed by community members.
In a similar fashion, filmmaker Jennifer Crandall has traveled through the state of Alabama, inviting people to look into a camera and share a part of themselves through the words of Walt Whitman.
“When I was invited to be the artist-in-residence for Alabama Media Group," Crandall says, "I came up with the idea of making a series of portraits hoping to show off Alabama's people — but instead of using a traditional interview format, I wanted to use a poem as the common thread. And beyond that, let people speak for themselves.”
The project is called Whitman, Alabama, and more information and video can be found here on their website. It could easily be adapted as a community poetry project.
Explore the calendar of Whitman festivities
Remember, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Use existing Walt Whitman commemmoration events as inspiration, or if you live near any of the events, see how your library can jump on board.
If you’re close to Walt Whitman’s birthplace on Long Island, N.Y., the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association operates poetry events year-round, including an annual student poetry contest. This year, they have a Bicentennial Birthday Weekend Celebration planned, with tours of the house and grounds, a picnic, presentations and theatrical performances.
Writers and poets over the years have suggested that one of the reasons Whitman resonates with so many readers is his American democratic values. Institutions in and around Camden, N.J. — the community, just outside Philadelphia, where Whitman spent the last 20 years of his life — are paying homage to those values with a series of special events, Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy. The University of Pennsylvania Libraries, with support from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, is hosting multiple cultural events, including four artistic commissions, exhibitions, performances and programs.
Also check out International Whitman Week, with presentations, discussions, walking tours and Whitman-centric performances and events.