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At the edge of the city Whitman’s house stands well maintained and funded by the offices of the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, complete with a fresh coat of paint, tour guides and a rack of nostalgic postcards for sale.Across the street is a high-rise county prison and you can often see from Whitman’s front door young African American mothers with children standing on the sidewalk near barbed wire fences using homemade sign language to speak to the men behind the narrow prison windows.I was asked once, “Don’t you think the fact that Whitman was a poet was radical in itself?
An attack against Whitman is too much for many white liberals to bear.
I know first-hand as it was horrifying and difficult for me being a queer kid who felt safe and at home in Gay Grandpa’s poems.
I responded that he is currently one of the most taught poets in the United States public education system.
Poets in the mainstream as well as in the avant-garde champion his poems, and he is regarded as a forerunner to what we call modern poetry.
“Song of Myself,” “Song of the Open Road,” and of course “Calamus” which comes the closest to reveling and revealing an openly gay sensuality and love, these were important if not urgent markers to me as a youngster and I believed that with his poems I could find the strength to be okay with who I was in the world when aunts and uncles told me I was going to burn in Hell for eternity.
Soon after my Whitman awakening I saw a large poster of him in the library.
I was a poor, white working class gay teen in the 1980s wanting to escape rural American racism and homophobia by looking for shelter in Philadelphia’s gay and lesbian community.
The shame of being gay that people wanted me to feel back where I grew up was nothing compared to the shame I felt when discovering gay racists.
” Then another person said, “Things are much different now, you can’t compare the times!
” I said, “Read Michelle Alexander’s if you are serious about knowing some of the truth.” Another person said I was distancing myself from the present by focusing on Whitman.