Watch “Walt Whitman: Citizen Poet”

Visitors tour a special collections display, which includes a screening of the new documentary short film “Walt Whitman: Citizen Poet,” to commemorate the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth, June 3, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Yesterday, the Library of Congress celebrated Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday with a public open house in the Thomas Jefferson Building. From 2:30 to 5:00, the room buzzed with energy as Library staff showed off a host of rarely seen Whitman collection items from the Manuscript, Rare Book and Special Collections, Prints and Photographs, and Music divisions, as well as from the general collections.

As an additional treat, the afternoon included a screening of “Walt Whitman: Citizen Poet,” a new documentary short film directed by Haydn Reiss and Zinc Films in honor of Whitman’s bicentennial. The film, produced in association with the Poetry Foundation, features Poets Laureate Tracy K. Smith and Robert Hass, along with poet Martin Espada, discussing Walt Whitman’s life, work, and enduring influence on contemporary poetry. Partially shot here at the Library of Congress, the film offers glimpses of the Great Hall and the office of the Poet Laureate as Tracy K. Smith beholds some of the Library’s most treasured Whitman items: the poet’s cane, spectacles, poem drafts from “Leaves of Grass,” and a cast of his hand.

If you weren’t able to stop by the open house yesterday to catch “Walt Whitman: Citizen Poet,” you’ll be happy to know that the film is available to stream online at the Poetry Foundation’s website: Watch it here.

To learn more about the Library’s Walt Whitman collections, exhibits, and resources, visit our new Walt Whitman online guide.

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