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Who Wants to be an American Idol?



In Huntington, NY I saw the neighborhoods where America's most famous poet began his life. I wondered how the son of a humble carpenter rose up to become one of our country's most beloved figures. How can a person who stopped his education at the age of 11 manage to invent a whole new form of poetry? Most of all, how can I get to have my house turned into a museum? If you have ever fantasized about becoming a true American hero, here is some advice to help your journey:

Whitman had a bit of an ego and enjoyed having his picture taken, as you can probably tell.

1. Love learning.

Whitman's parents were very open-minded, and taught Walt the same qualities. They took him to see speakers in town. One in particular, the radical Quaker, Elias Hicks, had a profound influence on Whitman at the age of 10. From Hicks, Whitman learned that humanity was united because God existed in every human being. So if you want to be a revolutionary, start exposing yourself to radical ideas, read, and turn off the tv!

These leaves are why I love the East Coast

2. Love your fellow citizens.

Whitman loved what America stood for: freedom, equality, love. His poetry was not about war heroes or famous kings. He celebrated the common man-the shoemaker, mechanic, and carpenter. Whitman thought they gave America a vibrant culture. He believed there were no divisions between rich and poor; male and female; or the educated and illiterate.

The landscape that Whitman loved. It inspired me too!

3. Fight for your ideals.

Loving your country does not mean overlooking the times when your fellow citizens are acting badly. Whitman cared so deeply about his fellow man and democratic ideals that he always spoke out when he saw things happening that were contrary to his beliefs. He spoke out against slavery and campaigned for worker's rights and the equality of women.

4. Know where you come from.

Whitman always felt a deep affection for what his hometown had given him, an appreciation for nature and for the ordinary man who worked for long hours on the farm and factory.


5. Take risks!

Whitman pioneered a unique literature by breaking with all convention and writing in "free verse." No rhymes, no meter, no structure.

The room where the 'Great Grey Poet' was born!

6. Combat peer pressure.

Whitman is noted for breaking with tradition. In an age of Victorian prudery, where people put covers on piano legs so they wouldn't be naked, Whitman celebrated the body in all its beauty. He was often censored and was fired from several jobs.

7. Retain hope.

Whitman saw his country undergo a traumatic Civil War. He was devastated by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Yet he still retained hope that America would resolve her problems.


Loathing Football:
It seems so silly, but ...

The Odyssey has forced me to make connections between the past and present. I've seen desperate poverty in Philadelphia, salmon near extinction in Seattle, and experienced a depressing presidential election that half the American people didn't bother to vote in. It's very easy for me to be depressed about my country, but reading Whitman's poems has taught me not to give in to despair. As he reminds us, "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem."


Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Irene - Having a whale of a time
Neda - Contra dance party!
Nick - A Boy Named Jon Brown