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This is the not the first time my family has crossed paths with Walt Whitman.
In my family’s lore, my grandfather would tell a story about how his grandfather (a judge in Camden prior to the turn of the century) once sent the famous and highly debated poet to jail for public intoxication. His grandmother and her friends would cross the street if they saw ole Walt stumbling their way, drunk as a skunk, for they did not want to be on the same side of the road as he passed. Their recollections, as retold by my grandfather, were singularly unimpressed with the man who has been called “America’s poet”.
Even in death, my mother’s family cannot escape some sort of proximity to the poet. Harleigh Cemetery, where my maternal grandparents, their siblings, and both sides of my grandfather’s family have family plots, is also the resting place for Walt Whitman. When I visit the family gravesite, I can see the Whitman mausoleum about one hundred and fifty yard away hidden in the trees that have grown over it. The only way out is to go past it. You can see the slots of the Whitman family behind a heavy barred gate with little knickknacks, flowers, and other minutiae left outside. -- Read More
I find it fitting that National Poetry Month & National Library Week occur in the same month.
I was introduced to books before I could walk. Books, oral stories, nursery rhymes etc. It was no surprise that I would discover the public library. This was in the dark ages before Summer Reading Program, or Teen Read Week.
It took some motivation to get me to read even though I loved stories. It was originally stories about sports heroes that filled my book list. As I grew older, I discovered music, then poetry.
It was a small step from John Lennon's lyrics to the poetry of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. Teachers in school taught lyrics as a form of poetry, I was captivated by music like most teens. I listened to the music and read every book about every band that I could find. Those were either in the 780s music, or the 920 collected biography section of the library.
And right in the middle was poetry. I read poetry as a teen because I loved it and because several poets were on the list of authors that one ought to read before attending college. I read poetry, then American literature, essays, anything that would get a commoners son ready for college. But poetry was the key that opened the door for me.
Amid this week of remiinding our communities of the importance of libraries, let us take some time and remind our readers of the centrality of poetry to the library.