Professor Karen Karbiener of New York University
and her class:
Dear friends, in the democratic, progressive, visionary spirit of Whitman’s great poem, we would be honored to have you join us at this event.
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin
of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun… there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand… nor look through the eyes of
the dead… nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them for yourself.
Whitman wrote in 1855 to a country in deep crisis. Political corruption was at an all-time high, due in large part to three incompetent presidencies in a row. The slavery issue divided the country, and events such as the Compromise of 1850 and “Bleeding Kansas” demonstrated how dishonesty and lack of integrity had become national characteristics. The gap between rich and poor was widening at an alarming rate, and diseases such as Asiatic cholera swept through American cities. Additionally, America was still looking over its shoulder at England for cultural inspiration: British writers such as Dickens and Tennyson outsold any native American authors.
“ Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son” employed art to institute change. His long poem “Song of Myself” is a call to consciousness for Americans as much as it is a celebration of the American spirit, particularly the “New York state of mind” he so loved and lovingly portrayed. “Song of Myself” is our cultural Declaration of Independence. It represents radical patriotism. And we feel it is once again time to speak, hear, and be moved by Whitman’s timeless message.
The reading is being hosted by the South Street Seaport Museum and organized by me, a native New Yorker and professor at NYU who has dedicated her life to Whitman's art. I've just finished a new edition of Whitman's poetry and I teach a popular course entitled "Whitman and New York" that you can read about here:
We are encouraging wide public response to this reading and are collecting reader information at [email protected], or call the Seaport Programs office (212.748.8735) for further information.