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OK now, time for some highbrow, high-falutin’ blibbity blab by yours truly, who loves nothing more than a little bit of found poetry!

Whitman, Alabama is an ongoing project by filmmaker Jennifer Crandall that simply asks random strangers if they’d like to read some poetry on camera. Instead of laughing in her face, an almost shockingly high percentage of them say yes. And then they recite a verse from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” directly into the camera. It’s almost impossibly beautiful, and the cumulative effect of it can be a little overwhelming. I find I can only watch two or three of the (quite short) films before I start circling the “Wait, what am I doing with my life?” drain.

It’s a project that is not without built-in pitfalls, each pretty deftly handled. Walt Whitman himself is not without controversy, and Crandall addresses why she chose this poem (and why she chose Alabama) in the “About” section of the site. And while a lot of the designated readers are clearly not familiar with the poem at all (one is quite surprised at the “19th century porn” he’s first asked to read; they give him another verse instead), the project never stoops to condescension. I think it achieves the exact opposite—having this most American of poems read simply and forthrightly by this vastly diverse group of people manages to glorify both ends of the classic writer/reader relationship. They exist and thrive together.

Here’s Verse 1, read by Virginia Mae Schmitt.

The project is not yet complete. The 52 “Song of Myself” verses are not being filmed in order, so there are some famous ones still missing. You can sign up to be notified about newly uploaded verses, but you won’t mind the hopscotch verse-here, verse-there nature of it; the power is in the recitations. Drug court judges and defendants, spelunkers, female NASA engineers, Tuskegee football players, young children just hanging out on a playground. Everybody can read a poem and everybody can read this one. Poetry is large and it contains multitudes.

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By Leuchtturm1917

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • Virginia Mae is a treasure.

    • This was beautiful. I’ve listening/reading for an hour. Thank you.

      • Wonderful does not describe this. OT is way above wonderful and enlightening. Thank you!

  • So beautiful! Thanks so much for posting. I’m sharing with friends.

  • Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • What a great video! Let us walk the path of words well spoken.

  • Fascinating project. I’ve been looking at different episodes for the past hour and subscribed to the YouTube channel. Thx for sharing this;)

  • This is better than church….

  • With much appreciation and great gratitude.

  • I have been reading a lot during 2020; fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in constant rotation ( Whitman, e.e. cummings, Shel Silverstein, Nikki Giovanni, and collections). The written word has been good for my soul more so this year than ever before.

  • Wow thank you

  • Wowie-zowie. This is a doozie, for sure. I watched Virginia Mae and saw my own mother, and I am crying my eyes out. My mother would have been 104 Friday, and she could recite poetry she learned in school up until the month of her death at age 99. The words of Walt Whitman and the voice of Virginia Mae remind me to slow down, take the time to listen, and to be kind.

  • This is incredible. I could sit and listen to these beautiful people reciting poetry all day…and I just might. I particularly loved the man reciting poetry who was changing a flat tire on a busy highway. Thank you

  • I love this whole concept. I look forward to watching the videos. Thank you

  • Thank you for sharing this. It’s the most moving and beautiful thing I’ve read and watched in a long time. Many of the people and verses bring me to tears.

  • deeg, thank you so much for sharing this. Its a balm to my soul at this difficult time, and was glad to share it with my big sis. Looking forward to hearing more!

  • I cannot read Walt Whitman without tears forming in my eyes. It’s hard to put into words why. This presentation is beyond beautiful! Thank you!

  • Incredibly emotional, in the best ways. Thank you for this wonderful recommendation.

  • Thank you for bringing this beautiful poem and reading to us. ❤️

  • Oh my. I just watched the first one and my eyes are leaking. ❤️

  • Instant tears. Thank you.

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