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My Weekend with Two Poets

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message 1: by Aberjhani (new)

Aberjhani | 8 comments Those of us––whether writers, editors, or production personnel––who long ago cast our professional lot with the publishing industry, know that it can be as volatile and unpredictable as any other. Unless you are sitting on a stack of raving reviews for a bestseller (or at least a moderate seller) on its way to a tenth printing and adaptation to a major film, the crucial motivation to stick to one’s literary guns can sometimes simply vanish and leave you floundering for reasons and means to carry on. I got lucky this past weekend when the voices of two poets, one from the past and one from the present rescued me from the doubts and regrets that had started to block my path forward.

The unexpected voice from the past was that of Walt Whitman. You might say I rediscovered it through author Justin Kaplan’s award-winning biography of the great poet: Walt Whitman, A Life. I actually bought the book more than a decade ago but for some reason had read up to the very last chapter and then… stopped. If I thought at the time it might be too depressing, I discovered this past weekend it was profoundly inspiring. Particularly encouraging for me was this observation from Kaplan: “…After twenty years as a professional author, Whitman was still his own publisher, his own production and sales manager and shipping clerk.” And all of that in 1876 without the benefit of computer technology or express deliveries. Well, if Whitman could persevere to eventually become one of the definitive authors of his generation and of his country’s evolving national character, how could I not continue my own quest for something far less grand but at least (hopefully) as meaningful?

The second voice, from the present, was that of Elizabeth Alexander , President Barack Obama’s inaugural poet of choice. Because Alexander’s poem, Praise Song for the Day, had been composed specifically for the inauguration, I wanted to know more about her poetic passions when her pen was not directed by an official––however historic it may have been––political agenda. I received my answer when I went to the library and learned the only book there by Alexander was Body of Life (no doubt it will acquire more very soon). The title and cover art intrigued me. Then I took the book home and the poet’s voice itself so mesmerized and astonished me that I began jotting a few notes and ended up writing a full review of it. Rather than describe the review, please feel free to read it at this url: http://authorsden.com/visit/viewartic...

I was more than impressed by Alexander’s bold choice of subject matter and the skillful manner with which she used poetry to document one of the greatest challenges currently facing humanity. Clearly, she was and is an individual who remains true to her creative vision. Whatever the cost has been, it would appear she paid it and kept on keeping on. Her voice from here and now combined with that of Whitman’s from eons past created a harmonious duet of self-validation and renewed determination. That’s a wonderful gift to receive at the beginning of this brand new year 2009.

By Aberjhani
Author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
And [The American Poet Who Went Home Again:]



message 2: by Kat (new)

Kat | 4 comments Thanks, Aberjhani, for this honest essay. I agree that Whitman's determination is inspiring - I often use it as a pep talk for myself. And Elizabeth Alexander's poem was beautiful. While the Praise Song was a more formal style than Whitman's, I think it's right to connect her content with much of his in how it praised and showed beauty in the common, the everyday, the "everyman."


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