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  • TRUE STORIES: Celebrating American poetry and art

  • Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, / Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you. —Walt Whitman

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  • Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, / Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you. —Walt Whitman
    I’ll be hosting the 4th Annual Walt Whitman Birthday Bash at 3:00 p.m. today at the Pittsburg Public Library. This year, attendees are invited to share their favorite Whitman poem, join in reading “Song of Myself,” or be a gentle listener.
    “Song of Myself” is widely believed to be one of the most important poems in American literature. It belongs to the mid-nineteenth century’s wordplay that characterizes writers like Mark Twain.
    Whitman loved the common man, especially transportation workers; he would ride the ferry endlessly, going back and forth for the sheer pleasure of it. He enjoyed great camaraderie with the omnibus drivers and conductors, and he'd ride the whole length of their route just for the company.
    According to former Poet Laureate Robert Hass, the argument that “Song of Myself” makes is that we have more in common than separates us, and that common thing is the nature that courses through us. This includes body and soul, birth and death and sexual desire, what Whitman calls the “kelson of creation.” “Urge and urge and urge,” Whitman wrote, “always the procreant urge of the world.”
    Speaking of the American urge to create, on Friday Linda gifted me with a birthday / anniversary day trip over to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum, founded by Alice Walton and designed by Moshe Safdie, officially opened last November.
    Walton, 61, is the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, who died in 1992. She’s a horse lover and, in the rare interviews she has given over the years, unabashedly patriotic and sentimentally devoted to the rolling Arkansas landscape she grew up in. She now lives on an immense ranch in Texas and has been known to bid on art by cell phone while riding one of her beloved horses.
    The museum offers a marvelous collection of American art including American masterworks as well as lesser-known beauties from the colonial, 19th century, modern, and contemporary periods. What’s more, it’s free.
    Linda timed it so we arrived early and could begin our visit with a tranquil walk on one of the many trails that wind — beneath a cathedral of old growth trees — among the streams, ponds, wetlands, native plants, (and rock, steel, and bronze sculpture) on the Museum's 120-acre site. It was not only relaxing but it also connected me to the landscape on which the museum’s series of modern pavilions is built.
    Moshe Safdie, the museum’s designer, is committed to architecture that responds to human needs and aspirations and is informed by the geographic, social, and cultural elements that define a place. The museum is located in a ravine with a creek fed by Crystal Springs. Two suspended-cable-and-wood buildings span the ravine serving as dams as well as bridges. Wood, fieldstone and limestone aggregate are combined with concrete and a series of wood beams and glass to create a structure that is a piece of art in of itself. (To see photos, google Crystal Bridges).
    Page 2 of 2 - Inside the series of pavilions, I saw both Gilbert Stuart’s and Charles Vincent Peale’s portraits of George Washington as well as paintings by George Bellows, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Andrew Wyeth, and many, many more. Not to mention enchanting mobiles by Alexander Calder.
    I couldn’t help but reflect on the person behind the art. It’s one of the many ways art touches me. Art makes me wonder. To consider the person that made a piece of wonder brings further wonder — that someone was not only able to accomplish such mastery, but had deeper intentions.
    In the 19th century gallery, I found myself secretly hoping to see Thomas Eakins 1888 portrait of his good friend, Walt Whitman. I did find three exquisite paintings by Eakins, but Whitman was not among them.
    Speaking of Whitman, his biographers agree that most of his meaningful education came outside of school — when he went to libraries, attended lectures, and visited museums.
    Certainly there’s an abundance of meaningful education to be gotten at Crystal Bridges. But I suggest you not, afoot and light-hearted, take to the open road for Bentonville today. You can do that any time this summer.
    Today, I invite you to join me at the library for an afternoon with Walt Whitman. Come loafe and invite your soul, join in reading his poems or listening to them, and, of course, have a slice of the good gray poet’s birthday cake.
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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