Saturday, I rode my bike to Evanston to read Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” out loud in a park near the lake.
It’s a yearly tradition, going back over twenty years, I think. It’s my third time, but everyone’s first outside in a park. Before, it was inside, a long evening full of drink and food and many many people.
There are about twenty of us sitting in folding chairs on the grass. It’s windy and cool and everyone but me takes care to sit in the sun. I can’t recall a gathering where I was the youngest like I am today, in quite a long time.
I’ve still never read this poem myself all the way through. In fact, I’ve only ever read sections out loud at these gatherings. I go in and out of paying attention while others read. I spend a bunch of time drawing, more just staring into the distance. When I come back, I like hearing Whitman’s words, especially if the reader holds the microphone correctly, so they’re amplified and audible.
But I doubt I could say what the poem is about. I can’t imagine writing in such an ecstatic mode. It’s hopeful in ways I’ve never been. Very American that way. All that self-love too is completely alien to me.
I hope the reading is inside next year. But whereever it is, I’d like to be invited again. It’s sort of like church in its communal aspect. About as close to church as I want to be.