The American Experience: Walt Whitman

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Even though well in the 21st century, most of us are used to the good old-fashioned research; read and read and read. The high quality documentaries (both, production-wise and content-wise) like this one are a good reminder that, in the era of mass media, we have more access to the all sorts of data than ever before. The PBS documentary “The American Experience: Walt Whitman” is a great opportunity to access very easily a great deal of information concerning one of America’s best poets ever.

The documentary follows the life of a man who made so much difference not only to the nation he devoted himself to, but to the poetry in general. Through nine sections of this documentary we can follow the development from a sensitive, young Long Island boy to the magnificent and astonishing “the poet of the body and the poet of the soul “. This development has been presented as a process with a numerous factors which influenced it heavily, from the New York City with all its specificities and issues like slavery to the disasters like the Civil War. How influence of these, combined and intertwined, gave rise to an astonishing new philosophy on which the Leaves of Grass and created the “Good Gray Poet” is explained here in an easy and appealing way. The whole story throughout the documentary is backed up by a very powerful reading of Whitman’s poetry. The seas of information aside, these readings, in my opinion, are as valuable as they are moving. The reason is that they show that the poetry of Walt Whitman is basically composed to be read out loud. That Whitman had the idea of poetry as something that one not only enjoys in the privacy of his or her room (and heart) ,but shares by public reading is important information, because it brings us to the way he composed his poems. If we combine it with the information that he was equally concerned with how his poems looked printed on the page, it becomes clear that, while doing our projects, we must bear in mind that the language of the poems was chosen not only having the meaning in mind but also the “sound” and the “look” of it.

And finally, the documentaries like this are a good example, as I have already mentioned, that information today are available via many media, and that there is an abundance of material, well presented and “well packed”, waiting for us to use it.

One Response to “The American Experience: Walt Whitman”

  1. miri Says:
    Avatar of miri

    Hi Sanja,

    I am a student at CUNY, and I was reading your post. I share the same opinion with you, Whitman was really influenced by the surroundings. One good example, from one of the posts by Erin M. at Rutgers Camden describes in deeper details how Whitman is inspired from “the energy and spirit of the city, but also the energy of the descriptions of nature and nature and the body in (Song of Myself)”. Check it out

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