On Sunday, September 6th, Draper student Yvonne Garrett participated in the Sixth Annual Marathon Reading of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Yvonne writes about the experience below.
This past Sunday I was one of some forty New Yorkers who read aloud Walt Whitman’s epic poem “Song of Myself.” Organized by the Whitman Project, the reading was hosted by NYU Professor Karen Karbiener and took place aboard the tall ship Peking at the South Street Seaport Museum in Lower Manhattan.
Jack Putnam from the Museum started the reading with a brief historical background and Prof. Karbiener provided an introduction to Whitman and his work. Each of the readers was vastly different in reading style – some very straightforward and others highly theatrical. All ages and many accents – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Southern, some I couldn’t identify – were represented giving the reading a decided Whitman-esque quality. Although the day started out sunny and fair, by the time my sections came up (36 and 37), the wind had picked up, the sky was filled with ominous clouds and the temperature had dropped – a fitting backdrop for those sections which start, “Stretch'd and still lies the midnight/Two great hulls motionless on the breast of the darkness..” Most of the readers read from the project-provided Dover Thrift edition although some used their own preferred version of the poem. Whitman was famous for his revisions (some claim that these revisions often did not improve the poem) and hearing the back and forth between the different versions gave the reading a unique depth that a straight reading can’t provide.
The reading itself took nearly three hours – an exhausting but also exhilarating event. This is my second year participating and the uniquely New York experience of hearing and reading this poem aloud with so many other New Yorkers in such an apt setting (the foredeck of a 19th Century barque) is one I highly recommend.