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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wanted to share this announcement

Boston Public Library Special Exhibit

The Public Life of Poetry: Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, and Their Contemporaries


Rare Books Lobby
Central Library
Boston Public Library
Copley Square
700 Boylston St.
Boston, MA 02116

The Public Life of Poetry: Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, and Their Contemporaries
In his 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman boldly declared that “a bard is to be commensurate with a people” and that “[t]he proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” With these pronouncements, Whitman expresses the sentiment of commonality and reciprocal appreciation that drove the work of many nineteenth-century American poets, poets who depended upon their readers’ “absorption” of their verse.

The Public Life of Poetry: Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, and Their Contemporaries presents the work of poets who believed themselves to be speaking to and for a vast number of Americans. As critics have pointed out, the American literary milieu was dominated until the early nineteenth century by writers who were effectively dilettantes and could not hope for large readerships. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, with the example of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the professional poet was born. Longfellow’s books could be found on parlor tables across the country.
But, in fact, nineteenth-century Americans found poetry in print all around them—not only in their private homes, but also in the public sphere—and this exhibit also presents some of the “disposable” or “ephemeral” poetry that circulated during this period alongside the work of respected literary lions. Printed verse appeared in advertisements, in schoolbooks, at monument dedications, and on the covers of periodicals. Readers, in turn, produced and reproduced poetry in parodies, scrapbook collections, and even samplers. An overlooked segment of nineteenth-century American print culture, public poetry occupied an important sociocultural role, helping readers to make sense of war, death, love, separation, and other transformations of and challenges to emotional and spiritual life.
This exhibit of material from the Boston Public Library’s Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts features early editions and manuscripts from iconic American poets such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson; political broadsides and ephemera by John Greenleaf Whittier and Ralph Waldo Emerson; collections of dialect poetry by James Whitcomb Riley and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and more.

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