Whitman, Alabama

Has anyone ever asked you if you like poetry?

I’m curious because whenever someone asks me that question, I think to myself – a better question is: can you appreciate poetry?

Liking poetry is fine. But simply liking poetry will leave you skating along the surface.

Learn to appreciate it and you will learn to love it even if you don’t like it. Even if you find a poem disturbing, heartbreaking, traumatic… Even if you hate a poem…

If you can find a poem’s higher value and contribution to the world, recognize it’s worth, and see the wider implications, you’ll begin to feel the same tinge of passion or pain that the poet felt when they wrote it.

Today, as our ability to interpret art moves from simply ‘reading’ into other mediums, our relationship with poetry is more intimate than ever. Multimedia projects have made it possible to interact with art in a different way. In the case of poetry, to participate in the act of verse – a poem happening. Words at work.

I was recently introduced to just such a project. The idea of reading a poem in front of a camera isn’t new. But, I’ve never seen anything like what this project accomplishes.

Whitman, Alabama is the brainchild of filmmaker Jennifer Crandall, Alabama Media Group’s first Artist in Residence. Jennifer spent two years roving all parts Alabama; traversing the state with a camera and an invitation to sit a while and recite a verse or two of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.

She enlisted the help of Alabamians, from all ages and walks of life, to help bring Whitman into the 21st century living, breathing, working South. There is no posturing; no falsification. There are no regretful performances. The common man and woman, who Whitman courted so ferociously on the page, have shown up to return their love.

And there is no better poem for a project of this nature than Whitman’s Song of Myself. His message of equality, tolerance, love, sex, freedom, and democracy first exploded on the scene in an epic 70-page, a book-length poem written from the perspective of many distinct voices, varying stories, and – at times – shocking circumspection.

The idea is this… each week for the next year, a video will be released featuring a recitation of one verse from Song of Myself. At the time of posting this article, there were about sixteen videos already released. I’ve watched them all. There isn’t one of them that hasn’t made a lasting impression on me. I think you’ll feel the same and hope you’ll pass this link along to those you love, those who need their spirits lifting, those who need reminding that we are all connected beyond a shadow of a doubt, and those who need an education in human nature, tolerance, equality, and love.

Thank you, Jennifer Crandall and Team. Thank you, Alabama Media Group.

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