After 79 seasons, the PBS history series American Experience is, to our delight, finally featuring a poet’s role in shaping our national heritage. On Monday, April 14th, the program is airing a documentary on Walt Whitman, his vision of a suffering America and his attempt to heal it. The program will include appearances by poets, essayists, scholars, and two Whitman specialists who are also VQR contributors—Kenneth Price from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Ed Folsom from the University of Iowa. Both Price and Folsom wrote pieces for our Spring 2005 special issue on Whitman. We’ve just made the issue public, and it can be read in its entirety online. The articles by Price (“Whitman in Selected Anthologies: The Politics of his Afterlife”) and Folsom (“What a Filthy Presidentiad!: Clinton’s Whitman, Bush’s Whitman, and Whitman’s America”) will be of particular interest.
Mark Samels, the executive producer of the PBS program, says “it’s hard to imagine one voice with the strength and the power to unite the polarized nation we currently live in… Walt Whitman saw himself as that kind of voice, and he sacrificed nearly everything, his financial well-being, his family, his personal life and his health, in hopes of being able to heal and unify the country as it raced towards one of its greatest conflicts.” Now, as always, is a good time to revisit his legacy.