Poet's Pick April 4
Walt Whitman: from
"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

Selected by Kim Addonizio
National Poetry Month 2017

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Our thanks to Kim Addonizio for today's Poet's Pick!

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Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy today's special poem and commentary from 2003!

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Don Selby & Diane Boller

Kim Addonizio's Poetry Month Pick, April 4, 2017

from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
by Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

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,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had receiv'd identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me.
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest,
Was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet ever told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Play'd the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

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?


* Kim Addonizio Comments:
There are few poets who have sustained me as reliably or for as long as Whitman.  Every time I go back to him I find solace in his essential humanity. He’s been criticized for a too-rosy portrayal of American democracy and of the poor and working classes. Yet the core of his vision is so expansive and inclusive that I succumb to it every time. Whitman’s vision is essentially spiritual, not political, and in many places he succeeds magnificently in reminding us that consciousness is first and foremost the journey, and that, as he writes elsewhere, “a kelson of the creation is love.”

These lines from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” are taken from the ninth edition of Leaves of Grass. My copy is an old, yellowed New American Library edition, a small paperback whose cover got torn off some years back. I notice it was bought used. I either stole it from, or was given it by, my first husband — I can’t remember which. But I remember vividly the afternoon we lay in the sand dunes at Ocean Beach, in San Francisco, years ago, and he read me some of Whitman’s lines. It was the first time I had encountered them.  They are still electrifying to me now.

Kim Addonizio:
A finalist for the National Book Award, Kim Addonizio has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA Fellowships, and a Pushcart Prize. She divides her time between living in Oakland, California, and New York City.

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