Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!

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Join Us in Celebrating Whitman’s Bicentennial by Reading Crossing Brooklyn Ferry — Out Loud!

What is This Celebration?

Walt Whitman — the father of free verse, the Bard of Brooklyn, the voice of Democracy — has been called American’s imaginative father and mother. 2019 marks 200 years since his birth and we’re celebrating by inviting you to read Crossing Brooklyn Ferry — his visionary poem about time, our interconnectedness, and the transcendent power of art — throughout the year. 

How Do I Participate?

We're offering the idea of this shared reading, as well as resources for those who want them, but encourage you to envision your own way of participating in the project. If you organize a public event let us know and we'll include it in our calendar, blog, and social media. And tell your friends! This is a shared effort, and we want to get the word out!

Out Loud? Sure, but Where?

Anywhere, especially at your local public library, in your poetry club or reading group, with your students, or in Times Square. You can plan ahead and schedule it, collaborating with an arts organization or bookstore, or show up at your local farmer’s market with some friends for an impromptu flash mob reading.

I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence.
— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
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What Is It Then Between Us?

“What is it then between us? 
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us? 
Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not.”
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

Our goal for this year-long project is 1,000 public readings of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. But our motivation is larger still — we want to help introduce or re-introduce people to Whitman during his bicentennial because we believe he’s newly relevant, again. “What is it then between us?”, Whitman asks in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, suggesting the power poetry has to connect us. But today the question could suggest something else: how are we Americans connected? Do we still want the democracy that Whitman envisioned? Are we still inspired by his fervent egalitarianism? Is his vision still relevant?

We think so, and hope a shared reading of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry will help continue the conversation Whitman began when he published the poem in 1856!

Who knows but I am enjoying this? Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me?
— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
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Why This Poem? 

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry is an inspiring and sweeping poem that serves as a fantastic introduction to Whitman. It touches many of the themes common to his poetry: time, death, democracy, cataloging the world, and our interconnectedness with each other and nature. Whitman had an optimistic vision for a democratic, egalitarian America, and Crossing Brooklyn Ferry speaks emphatically, if indirectly, to a vision that we feel is particularly relevant today. Also, we just can't resist responding to Whitman's suggestion that he's looking over our shoulder as we read the poem, enjoying our company. We hope so, Walt! Happy Birthday!

Closer yet I approach you, 
What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you—I laid in my stores in advance, 
I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born. 

Who was to know what should come home to me? 
Who knows but I am enjoying this? 
Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me? 

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Partners & Participants

The Brooklyn Public Library  •  Brooklyn Poets • The Brooklyn Historical Society • The Walt Whitman Initiative  •  The Walt Whitman Project   • The Fort Greene Park Conservancy • Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop • The Academy of American Poets • The Missoula Public Library • The Evergreen State College • Canadian Whitmanites • New York Harbor Channel • Parachute Literary Arts • The Pickaway Public Library • Troubled Americans