If Whitman were alive today, how would he contradict himself? Perhaps he would pause in a tea shop to pound out a text on his flip phone. This video, featuring Walt Whitman’s contemporary look-alike wandering through urban and wild spaces, promotes Allen Crawford’s take on the beloved poem, Song of Myself.
Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself sprawls excerpts of the original text over 256 graphic pages. The video shows Crawford literally illuminating the poem, using a lightbox to trace its words. (See what he did there?) Illumination also refers to the practice of medieval scribes, who copied out scripture by hand, illustrating the margins in a practice of devotion. The finished product pays tribute both to the spirit of Whitman’s work and the spirit of those individuals who patiently inked religious manuscripts centuries ago. Like them, Crawford brings playful and poignant images to timeless verses.
At the end of the video, we get a preview of the book. No doubt, it’s beautiful! The pages alternate between green, blue, and red, which Crawford chose to provide a consistent theme. The white text is arranged artistically on the pages, so it’s not the most readable version of the poem you’ll find. It’s best to read a few pages at a time instead of trying to absorb the whole work in one sitting. You don’t even have to read the pages in order. Each page or spread can be taken as a single piece of graphic design.
Overall, I love it. It makes a great gift for the Whitman lover in your life, whether they’re a poet, a poetry scholar, a poetry lover, or just somebody who likes to flip through gorgeous coffee table books. The featured image at the top of this article is one of my favorite examples of how Song of Myself translates flawlessly into the modern age: an astronaut floats in space, attached to a cable that looks like an umbilical cord. “The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,” declares the page, “The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue… And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.” Each page is a new discovery. This is a book to enjoy slowly. Keep it in your bag and take it out in your favorite cozy spot, to read and reflect on WWWD (What Would Whitman Do?).
YouTube Channel: Allen Crawford
Featured image via The Believer Logger