This week all over Brooklyn, there will be celebrations honoring Walt Whitman. With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Brooklyn’s greatest poet, one has to ask the question: Was Walt Whitman gay and does his poetry celebrate the joys of being gay? Reading his poetry there are so many clear homoerotic images that many students of Whitman conclude that despite the fact that Whitman never came out as gay, he was gay, or at least bisexual.
Were Whitman to return to Brooklyn today, he would probably be pleasantly surprised by the many Brooklynites who live an openly gay lifestyle.
During Whitman’s time admitting to a gay relationship was taboo, but he hinted at it in a letter he wrote at the end of his life with his discussion of “fervent comradeship.” In the passage below he seems to suggest to a time when gay relationships would be accepted by the broader American society:
Many will say it is a dream and will not follow my inferences: but I confidentially expect a time when there will be seen running through it like a half-hid warp through all the myriad audible and visible worldly interests of America, threads of manly friendship, fond and loving, pure and sweet, strong and life-long, carried to degrees hitherto unknown, not only giving tone to individual character and making it unprecedentedly emotional, muscular, heroic and refined, but having the deepest relation to general politics. I say democracy infers such loving comradeship as its most inevitable twin or counterpart, without which it will be incomplete, in vain and incapable of perpetuating itself.
For most of us when we think about Brooklyn’s greatest poet Walt Whitman we think about his poetry and not about his prose. However, Whitman like many creative people today in Brooklyn, had to pay the bills and to make ends meet from 1857 to 1859 he edited a Williamsburg newspaper called the Brooklyn Daily Times, which changed its name from the Williamsburg Daily Times when Williamsburg merged with the city of Brooklyn in 1855, the same year Whitman first published his celebrated “Leaves of Grass.” Whitman worked out of an office that was near the foot of Broadway in Williamsburg and the prose he wrote there gives us a unique window into what our area was like on the eve of the Civil War.
Many of the editorials that Whitman wrote for the paper concerned the spread of slavery, the burning national question of the day. Whitman was no abolitionist and even told his readers that there were some positive aspects to slavery. Whitman was a “Free Soiler,” which meant that he favored stopping the spread of slavery into the new western territories that were to be incorporated into states. Previously, Whitman had edited the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a Democratic paper and he had been fired because of his free-soil stance from the paper.
Looking back on Whitman’s racial views a century and a half later, we are struck by the fact that a man who was so humane and sensitive in his poems could be so indifferent to the enslavement of millions of Americans. Whitman never believed in racial equality and asked, “Is not America for the whites?” He also asked what he believed to be a horribly racist rhetorical question, “Who believes that whites and blacks can ever amalgamate in America? Or who wishes it to happen?”
Aside from dealing with the burning political questions of the day, Whitman also loved Brooklyn deeply and wrote extensive observations of local life. In 1857, he visited Greenpoint and described at length the burgeoning pottery industry here. He visited Pottery Hill, where the father of local ceramics, Charles Cartlidge had set up our area’s first pottery and Whitman went into great detail describing the process by which pottery was crafted. Continue reading →
As the MTA’s planned 15-month suspension of L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan draws near, all 200,000 daily riders of the L-pocalypse have been asking the same question: how will we get across the river? Brooklynites have been asking that question for generations, and personal ingenuity, along with municipal planning, has yielded several answers. All we can say for sure is that this is not the first time aggrieved Greenpointers have been up in arms over inadequate inter-borough transit. I’m just glad we don’t have to take a rowboat.
The rowboat commute was the first in a line increasingly efficient methods of getting from Greenpoint to Manhattan that includes horsecars, trollies, ferry services, elevated trains, and the dawn and growth of the subway. Step in, stand clear and read on for a history of transit in North Brooklyn. Continue reading →
WEDNESDAY 9/10 # Savory Fall Pie Class @ Pie Corps (77 Driggs) 6:45pm, $75, In this class you will make four pies: cottage pie; chicken pot pie; braised potato, onion, and bacon pan pie; and pear, blue cheese and toasted walnut galette, More info ☺Tragedy & Farce Circus Freakshow @ Bizarre Bushwick (12 Jefferson St) 8pm, $15 suggested, Part of the Bk Wildlife Summer Festival, a fringe element event that pushes the boundaries of artistic expression and caters to the non-traditional, RSVPContinue reading →