Whitman sampler: Brooklyn celebrates poet’s 200th birthday

Brooklyn bard: Poet Walt Whitman was born 200 years ago on May 31, and Kings County is ready to throw him a party!
Brooklyn Historical Society

Hurray for the birthday bard!

Brooklyn’s beloved poet Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, but celebrations of his birthday are happening all month long! If you want to join the troubadour’s bicentennial birthday party, here are some events you should check out:

Bard of boats

New York Harbor Channel honors Whitman’s bicentenniel this weekend at American Veterans Memorial Pier in Bay Ridge, with a recitation of his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and a commemoration ceremony, followed by a celebration of those who work in the harbor today.

May 11; 11 a.m.–1 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Pier (Bay Ridge Avenue at the water in Bay Ridge, www.newyorkharborchannel.com). Free.

The Brooklyn Public Library will celebrate Whitman with a host of free talks, readings, and analysis of the Bard’s work at its Central branch on May 18–19. Highlights will include:

‘Song’ writing

Poet Marvin Bell discusses Whitman’s signature style, then leads a workshop where participants can try writing free verse for themselves.

May 18 at 10:30 a.m. in the Trustees’ Room.

Wilde desire

Literature scholar Andrew Rimby investigates the meeting of Whitman with Irish writer Oscar Wilde, during the latter’s stateside tour during the 1880s — the two queer writers may have had done more than just talk during their private conference!

May 18 at 10:30 a.m., second floor.

Contains multitudes

Four writers and musicians respond to Whitman’s work through word, song, and dance. Featuring playwright and songwriter Cornelius Eady, writer and teacher Kimiko Hahn, the city’s Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana, and poet Vijay Seshadri, along with the Brooklyn Art Song Society.

May 18 at 4 p.m. at the Dweck Center.

O captain!

The weekend concludes with award-winning poets Gregory Pardlo, Vievee Francis, and Marvin Bell reading some of their own poems, to honor Whitman’s life and legacy.

May 19 at 5 p.m. at the Dweck Center.

All above events at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch, [10 Grand Army Plaza at Eastern Parkway in Prospect Heights, (718) 488–1000, www.bklynlibrary.org]. Free.

A-Crossing Brooklyn

On Walt Whitman’s actual birthday, at 4 pm, performers at each of Brooklyn’s 59 public libraries will read the Bard’s famous poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” The reading will also happen in Downtown’s Albee Square, along with a selection of 19th-century tunes from the Phil Woodmore singers.

May 31 at 4 pm at every Brooklyn Public Library branch, and at Albee Square (Fulton Street at DeKalb Avenue Downtown). Free.

Beard of Brooklyn

The hirsute poet gets his due at the “Walt Whitman Beard and Moustache Competition,” which will recognize beautiful beards in eight categories, including “The Barbaric Yawp,” for best natural moustache, “Song of Myself,” for the best costume beard, and “The Sleepers,” for best teen beard.”

June 8 at noon at Fort Greene Park’s Monument Steps (enter at Myrtle and N. Portland avenues in Fort Greene, www.bklynlibrary.org/event-series/whitman-200). Free.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

More from Around New York