Arts

Poetry Atlanta And The Atlanta Queer Literary Festival Celebrate The Bicentennial of Walt Whitman

In celebration of Walt Whitman 200th birthday, members of Poetry Atlanta and The Queer Literary Festival have partnered to recite Whitman's poems- from beginning to end.
In celebration of Walt Whitman 200th birthday, members of Poetry Atlanta and The Queer Literary Festival have partnered to recite Whitman's poems- from beginning to end.
Credit Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” he writes, “I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and end.” In celebration of the poet’s 200th birthday, members of Poetry Atlanta and The Queer Literary Festival have partnered to recite Whitman’s poems- from beginning to end.

The event will take place at the First Existentialist Congregation in Candler Park this Friday evening at 7:00 p.m.

Atlanta poets Rupert Fike and Kodac Harrison stopped by the studio to speak with “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes about the event.

Whitman was a self-taught writer, who was inspired by Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, and the Bible. At 17, he taught in Long Island for five years until he began pursuing journalism as a full-time career. Shortly after founding the weekly newspaper, The Long-Islander, he moved down to New Orleans to become an editor of their newspaper, Crescent. He stayed less than a year after witnessing the auctioning of enslaved individuals.

Kodac Harrison, left, Lois Reitzes, and Rupert Fike are seen here. (Summer Evans/WABE)

He returned to Brooklyn and co-founded a “free soil” newspaper which he edited through the following year. Even though his attitude towards race was never consistent in his writing, he did celebrate human dignity. In 1855, he wrote the first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” which consisted of twelve untitled poems, the first and most popular being “Song of Myself.”

“You’ll see there isn’t much difference in humans [from 1855 to now] when it comes to hopes, desires, dreams, and worries. They’re universal and he [Whitman] tapped into that in his poems,” Fike said. Fike has put on multiple read-a-thon poetry reading events as a member of the community board for Poetry Atlanta. The Walter Whitman event on May 31 should last about three hours with have over 40 artists and storytellers reading sections of his poem.

In Whitman’s lifetime, the collection of poems underwent nine editions. He died on March 26, 1892 and was buried in a tomb he had designed and built in Harleigh Cemetery. Two-hundred years after his birth, he is still considered one of America’s most important writers and poets.