Whitman and Beyond Fanfares for the Common Man with George Wallace

George’s Weblog

Posted by Gabriella Radujko under George’s Weblog

Whitman and Beyond Performance Log

August 11, 2012, Springs-Fireplace Road, Long Island, New York

Pollock-Krasner House– a reading for Jackson Pollock

Wow what a treat to visit with fellow poets and painters at the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, LI, to share a reading for Jackson Pollock. No threat of rain or summer heat could slow us down or keep us from sharing our Jackson Pollock related inspiration.

For me it was especially gratifying to ‘connect the bop‘ — ie, relate  the swirling circular and hugely energetic Pollock canvases to Whitman, to Charlie Parker and the Kansas City vortex, to the bop prosodists of the 50s, and to my own work.

The KC vortex?  Why it produced bebop jazz out of swing, of course, but also Thomas Hart Benton, indisputably Pollock’s mentor and whose abstract ideas about rhythm on the canvas transcend the WPA figurative aspects of his work in a manner that profoundly inform his work.

Musically stated, there’s the structural thing — improvising off and around and beyond and back to the core statement. Being able to jump into the conversation (musical or visual) from anywhere on the scale. Using your woodshed skills to blast out an extended and irrepressible improvisation which seems beyond deliberation, inspired, almost autonomic — but at its core, is deeply schooled. Camouflaging the subject, circling around it and going tangentially away from and back to it with sculpted micro-flourishes, teasing it out of perceptual existence and back in again. A rhythmic and tonal explosion that never loses its deep reference to the form. And finding the resolution, the landing point. Getting it back there.

It’s the essential HOW of bop, whether its Parker, Pollock or the prosodic flights of Kerouac, O’Hara and the rest.

Then there’s the WHY (as jazz musician Tony Scott, born Tony Sciacca in NJ testified, ‘I studied the how AND the why’ of bop).

The range of emotional statements that can be sustained is wide. Bending the voice of The Man, through the plaintive protestations and sly subversions of blues and jazz musicians finding solace, kicks, competition and cameraderie in the midst of Jim Crow America. The frenzied search for articulation of Pollock. The vernacular longings and raw industrial energies and arguments of Thomas Hart Benton.

The rebelliousness of the Beats and the aesthetic nuancing of the New York School poets. Their playfulness too, and the joyousness and transcendental celebration of our own Walt.

That’s right, Whitman — who in 1879 visited the grass prairie of Kansas, confluence of cattlemen, homesteaders, and declared that a pure new and original American voice would emerge from it.

Whitman didn’t mention the big muddy river rolling down from the north, or the irrepressible blues & jazz current that would sweep upstream from New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. He couldn’t know that there would be cross-country trains carrying  car after car of popping bi-coastal swing musicians, cats overnighting in what amounted to a free-for-all laboratory at 18th and Vine; a place to stretch their wings in time and space, to experiment with their music, to transform it into something new.

Whitman didn’t know it would be bop. But Whitman got it right. All those elements thrown into the hot crucible of America’s midsection added dimension and gave moment to an emergent American voice Whitman knew would come.

Okay, a lot of it came to a head here in the Big Apple — jazz clubs, juke joints, painters studios and writers’ pads. And further on out, to Jackson Pollock’s bucolic retreat in Springs, a shingled house beside the sheltered salt marshes of Gardiner’s Bay where we celebrated his work and his voice today.

But the roots go deep, way deep. Deep into midwestern soil.

(Thanks to Tim Sullivan, Ros Brenner and Helen Harrison for organizing it, and to fellow poets Lucas Hunt, Michelle Whittaker, Max Wheat and Claire Schulman for adding their voices in)

July 19, 2012 – Kansas City KS – Gordon Parks Museum, Fort Scott Kansas

There’s an intriguing cultural cross-fertilization between the flint hills and prairies of eastern Kansas — a land of tallgrass prairie and thin-soiled grazing land, with KC as its urban hub — and the eastern seaboard, which Walt Whitman called home.

Oh it’s middle America out there all right, with its ball fields and ice cream fundraisers and shootings after midnight outside the local hamburger joint.

But consider these:

-Whitman visited the Kansas prairies and called them the future of American culture, in 1879.

-Teddy Roosevelt showed up at Osawatomie in 1911 to dedicate a park to the fiery abolitionist John Brown and kick off an attack on oligarchy and monopoly in America (one of the more electrifying speeches in American history, called ‘The New Nationalism.’)

-Politically, there’s the impact of midwestern progressivism embodied by Kansas journalists like William Allen White (Emporia Ks) and Julius Wayland (Girard Ks), whose overtly socialist paper “Appeal To Reason” published Eugene Debs, Mother Jones and Jack London — not to mention underwriting the undercover investigative journalism of Sinclair Lewis, which resulted in the great muckraker novel The Jungle.

-Then too there’s the activism of the radical coal miners of the Pittsburg area, commemorated by a sweeping mural at the Pittsburg Library with a depiction of the three day march of the “Army of the Amazons,’ thousands of minetown women rallying against strikebreakers during ‘three cold days in 1921.’ (http://www.joplinglobe.com/local/x333938028/VIDEO-Modern-day-women-rally-to-re-create-historic-Amazon-Army-march/print)

-Artistically, think Charlie Parker, Virgil Thomson, Langston Hughes, Ed Sanders — and Thomas Hart Benton, whose mentorship to Jackson Pollock has yet to befully recognized in the art world

All of which provides context to the lifework of photographer Gordon Parks, who was reared in the slow-poking county-fair-going BBQ-eating 4H-club prairie town of Fort Scott, and his contribution to the KS-NY connection.

Park’s emergence on the scene in NYC as a photographer for Life was more than just an individual achievement  — in fact, he assiduously created a body of work which placed him as a key mid-20th century artistic advocate for the dignity of the underclass and the oppressed.

Let me put it this way. My visit to the Woody Guthrie Festival and the Gordon Parks Museum this week, to bring Whitman’s message of transcendental ‘this is what you shall do’ acceptance of others, had multidimensional references and connotations I hardly realized until I made the scene and checked things out.

As in previous years, the Okemah festival for Woody was enormously gratifying, further illustrating the connectedness of America’s great dust bowl balladeer to the entire nation and beyond, and positively declaring the place of Oklahoma poets in celebrating that (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MauGYj7Kn3U&feature=youtu.be).

But in Fort Scott, flanked by iconic Parks photos of Harlem families, street gangs, South American orphans and the inestimable ‘American Gothic,’ the words of Whitman, Steinbeck, Guthrie, Sandburg, Hughes and Maya Angelou achieved a new dimensionality I hadn’t really anticipated.

A fine crowd in a beautiful space at the local community college, the numbers swelled in part by good press coverage locally (http://www.fstribune.com/story/1872764.html)) and folks who were in town for ‘family reunion week,’  a shout out to them.

This was also my first collaborative reading — and a very successful experiment, so a shout out too to traveling British poet Geraldine Green, who with her husband Geoff was also on a tour which included not only the Parks museum but the Woody Guthrie Festival and readings in Norman OK, Shawnee OK, Pittsburg KS and Kansas City.

In Fort Scott she and I fashioned a tandem reading of the Whitman and Beyond poets and additionally infused some Blake, Coleridge and Burns into the mix. A fabulous result, not least of which was how Geraldine brought down the house with Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise.’ I hope we’ll have a chance to reprise in future appearances.

Kudos and thanks to OK and KS poets who hosted us and read with us along the way, including Carol Hamilton, Dorothy Alexander, Nathan Brown, Carl Sennhein and Jim Spurr (OK); and Al Ortolani, JT Knoll and the good folks at Prospero’s Books in Kansas City (KS). And David Amram, ambassador of bop, who once again extemporized on piano behind two hours of Woody Guthrie lovin’ poets in Okemah.

June 12, 2012 – Huntington NY

(I want to express my thanks to Gabriela Radujko for conceiving and creating this blog on my behalf, and maintaining since its inception. You’ve been a generous, creative and action-oriented friend and colleague, Gabriela! – GW)

June 2, 2012 – New York City NY

A good week to share Whitman’s ideas with prominent figures in music and poetry who it turns out are some of Whitman’s Wild Children (a term coined by Neeli Cherkovski). Folk singer Donovan was in town for a kind of after-party to his selection for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and we had a good two hour brainstorming session beforehand and talked a lot of Whitman as part of it. Martin Espada too, who is this year’s Poet in Residence at the WWBA — I learned just how tuned in he is to Walt’s social consciousness and sense of justice. And to make the trifecta, LA punk rock bassist Mike Watt was in town too, and turned out to be not only a big Whitman fan, but insightful and articulate in expressing how Whitman’s vision of tolerance and universality is the glue that holds a diverse society like America together. “Rather than herd, the more generous idea is common ground. Then you have respect, says Watt in a video interview at Walt’s grave in Camden — which prompted me to come see him at the Poisson Rouge this month. What Whitman’s saying is if you want real togetherness then you have to have tolerance because we are separate cats, we don’t dream by committee.”

May 31, 2012 – Albany NY, Washington Park

My poet-friend Dan Wilcox has been holding poetry readings before the statue of Robert Burns in Washington Park in Albany for a number of years now, but this time around it was an opportunity to read with regional poets from Song of Myself. Took AMTRAK up, which was a treat — and Dan pulled together a fine cast of readers from near and far to give old Walt a rousing birthday salute.

April 27, 2012 – Teaneck Library, Teaneck NJ

All community libraries are not alike. Teaneck demonstrated itself to be a community library with an exclamation point today, fielding perhaps the largest and most enthusiastically involved crowd of patrons to this moveable feast of a presentation series so far. A great town with a lively tradition of involvement in the arts, particularly as a home to NYC-oriented jazz and pop musicians over the decades. Proved itself today to be a great spot for sharing Whitman’s voice and his vision too. Bravo, Teaneck!

April 11, 2012 – South Huntington Public Library, Long Island

An intimate gathering of Whitman lovers close to home — South Huntington Library, in fact, a stone’s throw or two from Walt’s birthplace. It was almost a read-a-round, and a chance to share the love in the poet’s own backyard. Well, we’ve proved a poet can be loved in his hometown.

April  3, 2012 – Cornelia Street Cafe, New York, New York

Walt Whitman met the Four Horsemen tonight. Three Roberts and a George reading classic writers at Cornelia Street Cafe downtown Manhattan– Bob Quatrone (Wm Butler Yeats), Rab Wilson (Robert Burns), Robert Gibbons (Langston Hughes) and myself, that is. This was my first real opportunity to put Whitman in front of the performance poetry scene in New York City at what I consider a great subterranean venue near Father Demo Square.

I’ve been many times and in fact have read in tributes to the likes of Bukowski, Vega, Wannberg and Michael Benedikt, among others. This evening I offered up about ten minutes of Whitman. Audience response to the rhythm-driven intensity of Whitman’s work, with its echoes of spontaneous bop writings of mid-20th century New York School and Beat writers, was a big hit.

January, 2012  – Suffolk Poetry Society, Woodbridge, United Kingdom

Of course,  the big experience was my initiative to introduce the town of Velsen, Holland to the fact that they’re the ancestral home to Walt Whitman’s maternal family. It was news to them and a double pleasure for me to experience sharing their historic connection to the Good Gray Poet.

I presented the town of Velsen with a book on Whitman, and was given a ‘grand tour’ by one of the local alderman, Jim Westerman (left), pictured above next me.

I should also mention my particularly gratifying visit to the baptismal font of William Blake in London, at St. James Church Piccadilly.   The church, once danger of closing during the secular end of the 20th century, has instead  resurrected itself as a kind of a center for spirited and ‘radical welcome.’

I experienced, full force,  their focus on progressive action in social services and the arts, reminiscent to of Glide Church in San Francisco and others — sitting beside unwashed homeless men, who were in various states of reclining in the pews like Christians in the Catacombs, as two musicians with piano and clarinet rehearsed for an afternoon concert.

In essence, my search for a visionary touchstone, at the long-dry font Blake was baptised in, became an experience of quite a different, but wholly equal touchstone — ‘a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism’ in the form of a modern era communion and eucharistic grace.

‘Agape, Misce Nobis’ — Love, Mix Us The Wine — made new.

September 25, 2011 – Flushing, New York

Flushing New York. What does it make you think of? If you’re like me, some mixed combination of fortunate and unfortunate connotations emerge.

The Flushing Remonstrance, an early colonial forerunner to religious freedom in North Ameria.

The foul wasteland of smouldering ashes Nick Carraway had to drive through to in Great Gatsby.

The 1964 Worlds Fair. The New York Mets. Men In Black.

Or even more recently, an up and coming home to scores of Koreans — one of the most vibrant immigrant communities in the NYC borough which proudly bills itself as the most diverse county in America. Now, I’ve got a new item to add to that mix, thanks to a visit to present Whitman and Beyond to some good old friends and a few new ones at the Voelker-Orth Museum.  Namely, a lovely Victorian homestead, garden and bird sanctuary in the heart of Murray Hill, an ‘upland’ section of Flushing.

This week’s visit constituted a terrific tete-a-tete with a devoutly attentive audience in the parlor of the little home, followed by sherry and conversation. As close to a soiree experience as my Whitman tour has offered yet, and one I will remember a long long time!

August 7, 2011 – Salinas, California

A superb opportunity to bring together the voices of Walt Whitman and John Steinbeck, two American literary giants, at this year’s Steinbeck Festival. How closely their visions match! Whitman’s the more idealistic and absolute in expression, Steinbeck’s tempered by the troubles of his time — the Dust Bowl, the Depression, growing disallusionment with industrialism and commerical agriculture. Yet in both the ‘serious’ and more playful works, the notions of universality, original grace, brotherhood of souls and the benefits in voluntary association of working stiffs. Abound. InGrapes of Wrath (‘the stars are close and dear and I have joined the brotherhood of the worlds. And everything’s holy, even me’). In Of Mice And Men (‘with us it ain’t like that — we got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us…and why? Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you’). And in Cannery Row (’these are your true philosophers. I think that Mack & the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world… The sale of souls to gain the whole world is completely voluntary and almost unanimous — but not quite. Everywehere in the world there are Mack & the boys). Steinbeck profoundly shares Whitman’s ideas of ‘the soul of man…(which) rejoices in comrades‘; and his sense of the miraculous and transcendental oneness of things. Thanks to the Steinbeck Festival organizers for giving me a chance to share my recognition of that.

July 24, 2011 – Coniston, Lake District, United Kingdom

The relationship between Whitman’s mystical and ecstatic American transcendentalism and the radical Romantic literary figures of the 18th and 19th century is easily traced and well established, but the parallels and congruences with the ideas of mid-19th century British social/aesthetic philosopher John Ruskin is a rich vein for anyone who attempts to get a full picture of the enduring influence of the Good Gray poet on American literary themes and craftsmanship. In fact Ruskin’s championing of such Gothic/Arts and Crafts notions as ’reverential savageness,’ ’use of natural material,’ and ’charitable grotesquery’ so closely corresponds to Walt’s celebration of common humanity and the Barbaric Yawp as to be unmistakably allied in conception. Set in the unbelievably beautiful Lake District vales of Coniston Water, Ruskin’s rural home at Brantwood, with its extensive hillside gardens and singularly synchronous architectural details, offered the perfect venue to celebrate these concepts in the work of Ruskin, Whitman and more recent American writers. Thanks, Howard Hull, for hosting me!

July 14, 2011 – Treadwell, New York

Every crossroads is an opportunity. And not necessarily to make a deal with the Devil, like Robert Johnson. At least not in upstate New York, where a small village, with not much more to it than a general store, a one-pump gas station and a few old Victorian residences, can also serve as an intense vortex and gathering spot for artists, musicians and writers of national and even international reputation. That’s the case in little Treadwell, home to the Bright Hill Literary Center, thanks to Bertha Rogers. This was my second visit to Bright Hills, this time to share the vision and enduring legacy of Whitman with Bertha’s discerning audience. My co-feature, the great story-teller David Dominguez, shared the podium and shook the rafters of the little place. Afterwards we paid a respectful visit, along with ‘andkarenshow’ personality Karen Jenson, to the visual artist Joseph Kurhajec, who has a massive barn-like studio and museum — also described as ‘a dilapidated old dance hall’ — at the crossroads, to complement his atelier in Paris.

May 16, 2011 – Oradell Public Library, Oradell, New Jersey

Wending through old towns and along riversides in New Jersey, not too many miles from Manhattan but with a rustic Dutch/New England charm. Oradell, situated on the Hackensack River, where it’s been dammed up for a reservoir, is one of them. The little town was home to the wildlife painter and illustrator Charles Livingston Bull, whose imprint is all over the library — not only because he was one of the founders, but a number of his works of art hanging in it. The audience was among the best I’ve had to date. High level of enthusiasm and understanding of the authors and issues — truly an audience of good taste and education. An evening wonderfully organized by library staff!

May 6, 2011 – Emma Clark Library, Setauket New York

My first time back at this library to perform since I organized an evening of readings from the publications of Street Press, a Long Island literary press headed up for many years by Graham Everett, and publishers not only of local writers but the likes of Jack Kerouac and Jack Micheline. It was a stormy evening, and as luck would have it the lights went out. But the library staff rustled up a torch-like flashlight, which we passed around in the darkness and continued reading by. Tonight’s presentation was far less dramatic — but well attended, by a core group of regional poets who were glad to share their own insights during a lengthy Q&A session afterwards.

Apr 18, 2011 – Westchester Community College, Valhalla, New York

My first attempt to do Whitman and Beyond back to back for Composition and English students for Christine Timm at the Valhalla Campus of WCC. An eager and bright young bunch of kids, with plenty of questions at the end. Very responsive too, especially to the section of poems that illustrate poetry of witness that is more than just rant or condemnation — but instead possesses an underlying Whitmanian sense of gravitas, compassion and human concern. And what a beautiful campus to visit in Spring, with fruit trees blossoming all along the Westchester parkways!

April 8, 2011 Freeport Memorial Library, Freeport, New York

Just back from Freeport Memorial Library, the first of a half a dozen readings in the greater NYC metro area in the next thirty days, where I read from Whitman to a select audience. Included in the crowd were several poetry colleagues — Ellen Pickus, who I’ve known for many years for her fine work with young schoolage writers around Long Island; and the venerable Maxwell Wheat, naturalist, activist and first poet laureate of Nassau County. The Freeport Long Island library is a beautiful structure, a throwback to a more graceful architectural era when it was possible to unselfconsciously give expression to grandeur, and the unity of mind and spirit in knowledge. All together a worthy location for an afternoon sharing Walt’s luminous vision of the human experience!

March 10, 2011 – United States Court House, Brooklyn, New York

Q.  What do you get when 60 lawyers in a room listen to the poetry of Walt Whitman?

A.  Redemption

That’s not a lawyer joke. In fact, it’s an apt description of what happened at my appearance in a cafeteria at Brooklyn Federal Court on a rainy Thursday afternoon in March.

I expected to have a decent reception, mind you. I’d been invited to read poetry at the Federal Court in 2010, albeit to a more general population. So when I received an invitation to return and present Whitman to a cafeteria full of judges, lawyers and court staff, — Walt Whitman, with his poetry of wonder, and his celebration of the common man —  I both anticipated a warm response, but was not sure what exactly to expect to happen.

Of course I was able to cobble together what I figured to be a reasonably satisfying intellectual discussion about the common origins of Whitman’s celebratory thinking and the American legal system — in the principles of Rights of Man, founded in Enlightenment notions of Natural Law.

But this turned out to be something way beyond an excercise intellectualization. In fact, it was the heart and spirit of Whitman’s message — who tells us to rekindle our sense of wonder and love of the native spirit inside all humans — which this bright assemalbe of folks responded to most strongly.

I suppose in retrospect, I ought to have expected it. Here were gathered people who’d been working in a contentious, high pressure environment for years and years. I should have realized that, confonted with the sublime thinking of Whitman a crowd like that would be enthusiastic.

Fact is, it was a grand slam.

A moving experience not just for the audience, but for me, really — the chance to rekindle something precious and pure in the hearts of some of the toughest, brightest people around.

And a testament to the power of Whitman and his ideas.

“A smash, thoroughly enjoyable… his own little miracle.”
Raymond Dearie, Chief Judge, Brooklyn Federal Court

“A grand slam home run!  A wonderful program and giving much pleasure to those of us who ordinarily hear the spoken word used commonly in unmiraculous ways.”
Marilyn Go, Brooklyn Federal Court

February 15, 2011 –  Northport, Long Island, New York

Northport Library — Whitman and Beyond

This was my debut performance for Whitman and Beyond in Whitman country — Northport, LI, specifically, next town over from Huntington, the Good Gray Poet’s birthplace and town he called home at various points of his life. A core group of hearty local folks with an interest in culture and local history showed up, despite a night of bitter cold weather — including a fellow named Smith who, afterwards,  introduced himself to me as a distant relative of Whitman’s. Are you a Velsor, I asked? He was. Not a huge leap for me, knowing that there are other members of the maternal side of Walt’s family still in the region — including a sturdy blonde bearded fellow who lives only a couple of hundred yards from my own home. He raises sheep for the annual Sheep to Shawl festival at the local historical society.

February 6, 2011 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Church of Beethoven — A Whitman minute
It’s a church. It’s a performance venue. It’s New Mexico’s answer to the Sunday morning blahs. It’s Church of Beethoven in Albuquerque, and it packed its usual 250 + audience in this bright and early Sunday, for a‘service’ of caprices and other Nicolo Paganini compositions — and eight minutes of Walt Whitman, courtesy of yours truly. An honor to be introduced by talented artistic co-director David Felberg, and a pleasure to perform at this hugely popular and conspicuously cultured venue in a converted industrial building a block or so off US 40. Here’s a Youtube video of my appearance, if you want to see for yourself how it went:

February 4, 2011 – Taos, New Mexico

Mabel Dodge Luhan House — Whitman and Beyond, for SOMOS
My first full hour presentation of Whitman and Beyond in front of a live audience (thanks to NYC transplant Veronica Golos, and Jan Smith of the SOMOS arts organization), by a roaring fire in the salon/soiree space of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s adobe in historic Taos. The fire was more than cosmetic — a natural gas outage statewide had rendered New Mexico frigid, with schools and many businesses closed for several days. That didn’t stop a savvy group of Taos residents — many with art and cultural associations on both coasts and beyond — to savor an evening of Whitman, Sandburg, Guthrie, Steinbeck, Ginsberg, Vachel Lindsay and Lydia Maria Child. To top it off was a special appearance by classical trombonist Abbie Conant, offering a musical prelude to the evening’s activities — not to mention an impromptu curtain call at the end, during which we jammed away the New Mexico night.

“A delight and honor to play with him”
Abbie Conant, trombonist, Taos NM
“I don’t even know what to call it – reading, teaching, performance, discussion — one of the best events in a long time”
Veronica Golos, poet, Taos NM

January 15, 2011 – Athens, Greece

Walt Whitmans in Athens? You betcha! Thanks to Dimitris Lyacos, who I had the pleasure of introducing to New York audiences a year or so back, this was my first opportunity since 2005 to read before a Greek audience — and that time, it was on a rooftop of a pension on the resort island of Skiathos. This time around the circumstances were a bit more central — a block or so off Monastiraki Square, in the heart of Athens, at a hip and modern cultural art space known as About: run by Maria Loupi and Andreas Diktyopoulos. A SRO only crowd of over 100 heard me read from my own works — some of them rendered into Greek by the talented translator Lina Sipitanou — and from Whitman. The evening of entertainment was split between my own work and that of the late, great Greek poet Tassos DeNegris, whose work I have long admired. A spectacular evening of intercultural sharing, with great hopes of more to come.

“A lovely performance! It turned out to be quite an evening. The audience was enthused. We received only positive feedback.”
Maria Loupi

January 14, 2011 – Woodbridge England

Browsers Bookstore — Suffolk Poetry Society
My good friend in the UK, poet Ian Griffiths, put together a great visit to one of my old haunts in East Anglia, as part of the Suffolk Poetry Society (my last visit to the area was as poet laureate of Suffolk County, NY, with a Suffolk-Suffolk poetry book exhibition that made a tour of the local libraries). Following a convivial workshop in the tiny village of Harkstead, on the Shotley peninsula, I gave a reading at Browsers Books in Woodbridge which included Whitman in it. Martin, the proprietor of the High Street shop, had the chairs packed in, and with the weather holding up, I was treated to a lively audience in mid-January in damp England.

“We are still basking in the afterglow of his visit and words are flying around and freely making assocations  with each other like they never did before.”

Ian Griffith, Suffolk Poetry Society

January 14, 2011 – Woodbridge England

Browsers Bookstore — Suffolk Poetry Society
My good friend in the UK, poet Ian Griffiths, put together a great visit to one of my old haunts in East Anglia, as part of the Suffolk Poetry Society (my last visit to the area was as poet laureate of Suffolk County, NY, with a Suffolk-Suffolk poetry book exhibition that made a tour of the local libraries). Following a convivial workshop in the tiny village of Harkstead, on the Shotley peninsula, I gave a reading at Browsers Books in Woodbridge which included Whitman in it. Martin, the proprietor of the High Street shop, had the chairs packed in, and with the weather holding up, I was treated to a lively audience in mid-January in damp England.

“We are still basking in the afterglow of his visit and words are flying around and freely making assocations  with each other like they never did before.”

Ian Griffith, Suffolk Poetry Society

January 11, 2011 – New Galloway Scotland

Catstrand Theater — Paired Reading, Burns & Whitman
Black ice and snowy streets couldn’t keep Rab Wilson and I from jamming with a saxophonist named Jim in the southwest Scottish town of New Galloway, in my second event in less than a year with DGARTS (http://www.dgarts.co.uk/#1). Catstrand is a fabulous venue and the sound and light guy there worked overtime to give our performance of the works of Burns, Whitman and others a theatrical glow. A cameo appearance by Geraldine Green, from the Lake District, added to the international flavor of a great musical evening of word-slinging in a corner of Scotland that may not have the grandeur of the highlands, but is the true and legendary country of Robbie Burns — and also home to the annual Wigtown Book Festival in September.

December 9, 2010 – Jackson Heights , New York

Recording session with Jack Feldstein
Met Australian transplant Jack Feldstein, a neon animation artist, at a Bowery Poetry Club reading in December, and after bouncing around a few ideas over coffee at the Greenwich Village Bistro, hit on the idea of his trying his hand at animating some spoken word performances. This two hour session at a private studio in Jackson Heights, which included original works recorded by a handful of some of my favorite readers on the Manhattan scene, was the result — including my reading of Whitman’s Manahatta, which Jack tackled first. Here’s the result.
Keep an eye on this blog — Jack’s been shopping the video around, as a short in movie theaters in LA and New York City, with some VERY interesting nibbles.

October 25, 2010 – Queens, New York

Queens Public Televison — Freshmeadow Poets
Thanks to George Northrup of the Freshmeadow Poets for inviting me to record three half hour segments for their television show on QPTV in a public studio in the heart of Flushing, Queens, epicenter of what many call the most rich and incredibly diverse multi-cultural borough in America. A marathon session for him, and chance for me to get a feel for how the Whitman and Beyond material could handle the breadth of 1 ½ hours.

October 22, 2010 – Detroit, Michigan

Wayne State University — National Labor History Conference

First met ML Liebler (http://www.mlliebler.com/) at a great hip poetry event in Cleveland, at least two years ago, and we’ve been promising to do some things together ever since. ML runs a national labor history conference at Wayne State in Detroit, at the Walter Reuther library, which includes a poetry session. He brought me in to weave some of Whitman’s words — and my own — into this year’s session, associated with the anthology “Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out The Jams.” The pride of Detroit was there — and it was a proud moment for me to represent old Walt’s poetry among the resilient denizens of Motown. Thanks, ML!

September 26, 2010 – New York, New York

South Street Seaport — Song of Myself Marathon

I’ve participated in many a marathon reading over the years — including the complete works of Emily Dickinson at the Bowery Poetry Club, the annual Moby Dick readings at Canios in Sag Harbor, and three readings of the Iliad and Odyssey in NYC with Kathryn Holwein’s The Readers of Homer. Each had their unique resonances, but there was none quite like The Walt Whitman Project’s reading of Whitman’s Song of Myself, the brainchild of Karen Karbiner. Organizers deemed that weather preclude us from reading aboard the Barque Peking this year. However the cavernous haunts of the seaport museum, overlooking the very cobblestones Whitman would have walked en route to work after crossing the East River to Newspaper Row, provided cachet enough for a memorable afternoon of Walt.
September 18, 2010 – New York, New York

Wallace read Whitman at the KGB Bar on East 4th Street

“I remember KGB on West 4th St when people used to smoke there, and I invariably got a sore throat just being in the place for an hour. It’s a much better experience now, and the poetry reading series remains high caliber, thanks to Susan Tepper’s organizational effort. And packed to the doors, as is typical. A great chance to bellow Whitman amid the trappings of Cold War Red Scare Totalitarian Chic! One day a reading of John Reed’s America 1918 would be in order in this great walk-up venue”.

August 12, 2010 – Dumfries, Scotland

Wallace read Whitman at the Robert Burns Centre and discussed his connection with Robert Burns

“Robbie Burns has plenty to say about the dignity and aspirations of Scottish folks, in poems like “A Man’s A Man For A’ That,’ but it is his unsurpassed love of the common language that his connection to Whitman is strongest. Whitman himself said so, in November Boughs: “(Burns) is very close to the earth. He pick’d up his best words and tunes directly from the Scotch home-singers…He would have been at home in the Western United States… good-natured, warm-blooded, proud-spirited, amative, alimentive, convivial, young and early-middle-aged man of the decent-born middle classes everywhere and any how.” A thrill to tell a big crowd at the Burns Centre that! Thanks Carolyn Gates for setting it up, and Geraldine Green for hosting me!”

This is great stuff! I like the honest appraisal of the student who gives the speaker a wry look because he hadn’t been protesting. Did he not know that poets are lifelong professional protestors? Like Brando in ‘The Wild One’ — “What are you protesting against?”  “What have you got?”
Rab Wilson, poet in residence, Robert Burns Center, Dumfries Scotland

“Such a buzz! What a great performance! An appreciative audience for the energetic George Wallace”
Carolyn Yates, Literature Development Officer, Dumfries and Galloway Arts Centre

“it wis an utter pleasuir tae read wi yersel!”
Rab Wilson, Robert Burns writer in residence

July 14, 2010 – Okemah, Oklahoma

Reading at the Woody Guthrie Festival, Wallace discussed Whitman’s connection with Guthrie

“This is my sixth year traveling to Guthrie’s birthplace to share poetry with regional poets and the audiences at the Guthrie Festival in Okemah. OK it’s 104 degrees in the shade, but an unforgettable taste of what Guthrie and his people experienced. Once again jazz/beat impresario David Amram backed us up, and organizers Dorothy Alexander and Nathan Brown made my visit click. I love the bubbling enthusiasm of Woody Guthrie in passages from his book Bound For Glory, and carefully selected out they make for a fine companion to Whitman’s “Barbaric Yawps” in honor of the crowd”.

June 10, 2010 – Huntington, New York

George Wallace, former First Poet Laureate for Suffolk County, NY and author of 19 chapbooks of poetry was named Writer-in-Residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington, New York

“Met with Cynthia Shor today to confirm appointment as writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace. It’s great to have this new association with an organization I’ve been involved with, in various capacities, for over twenty years. We’ve outlined two main thrusts for 2011 1) a visiting writers series at the birthplace, in West Hills LI; and 2) creation of a traveling presentation — ‘WHITMAN AND BEYOND: FANFARES FOR THE COMMON MAN.” I’m terrifically excited to trace Whitman’s positivity, universality, and broad-based celebration of ‘the regular folk’ in writings of people like Sandburg, Steinbeck, Kerouac, and Woody Guthrie — plenty more, too”.