A literary figure came to life in downtown Duluth a few days ago. Walt Whitman made an appearance at the Zeitgeist Teatro Zuccone on September 12 in the form of a one-man show by Patrick Scully.
Whitman, of course, is known for his poetic work, “Leaves of Grass” (1855). The book received praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau but was also controversial for its overt sexuality.
In Scully’s show, “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated,” Scully embodies Whitman in his “multitudes,” exploring his inclusiveness and embrace of all humankind – things everyone needs reminders of, especially now.
The show premiered in New York City and Minneapolis. If you missed it in Duluth, you’ll have a chance to see it at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis on July 12-14, 2019, shortly after the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.
Scully performs a couple different versions of his show. The one we saw was the full-meal deal, featuring videos of male dancers dressed in appropriate period garb (and also lack thereof). The videos played behind Scully, who stood at a podium near the audience.
Whitman has been a long-time favorite of mine, ever since I read a first-edition version of “Leaves of Grass” (pictured, copyright 1959) that I think my parents gave me off their bookshelf. It kept me company during a summer on Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. No libraries there! So I lugged a duffle bag full of books along with me when I worked as a waitress at the resort on the island during college.
Some of my favorite lines come from, “I Sing the Body Electric.” In looking through my old book, this one still strikes me:
I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful curious breathing laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them . . to touch any one . . . . to rest my arm ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment . . . . what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight . . . . I swim in it as in a sea.
Like Whitman’s poetry, Scully’s show pleased my soul well.
Thanks go to Lake Superior Writers and the Minnesota State Arts Board for hosting and sponsoring the evening.