PAD: Whitman’s Legacy

Trying to decide what poem to share next, I came across this poem by Rosemary Catacalos, “Mr. Chairman Takes His Leave.” I was immediately taken with it because of both its uplifting nature even in the face of loss and its reference to Whitman.

Of late, I’ve been drawn again and again to Whitman, or Uncle Walt as I refer to him with my students. In fact, I redesigned my American literature curriculum from a chronological survey to a celebration of American Voices, starting with “I Hear America Singing.” In these days of war and political divisivness, Whitman’s vision of a unified, joyous America singing in harmony is a reassuring contrast to the talking heads of TV yelling about the degenerate other side of the aisle. Rather than argue the political right and left, this poem allows us to envision what we should be: a variety of voices in harmony rather than discord.

For his day, Whitman was expansive, but of course, as time rolls on, more and more voices speak up for inclusion. That is where my curriculum goes next, to poets that respond to Whitman with their own voices to add to the song that is America: Langston Hughes’s “I, Too“; Angela de Hoyos’s “To Walt Whitman“; and Julia Alvarez’s “I, Too, Sing America.” I can’t help but think that Uncle Walt would welcome them all to the table, happy for them to add “their strong melodious songs” to the “varied carols” of America.

Do you know a poem or have written one inspired by one of Whitman’s? Add your voice to the song using the comments below.

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