Dear Members and Supporters,
“What is it, then, between us?” asked Walt Whitman in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” It is a question—posed in present tense (what is it, not what was it)—that prompts us to continually contemplate what we have in common.
Whitman forged a new kind of American poetry that uniquely embodied both democratic ideals and painful facts about our nation’s origin. Ultimately, as Allen Ginsberg wrote of him, Whitman believed that “if this country did not have some glue to keep people together... some emotional bond—there was no possibility of democracy’s working.” We’d be just “a lot of separate people Fighting for an advantage.”
May 31 marks the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth, and in light of this bicentennial and the poet’s influence on American life and literature, the Academy of American Poets and the more than twenty members of the Poetry Coalition nationwide have taken up the theme of Poetry & Democracy this spring. Through programs and publications, including volume 56 of American Poets, we’ll be exploring how poetry positively contributes to addressing pressing issues, and sparks increased empathy and understanding.
This year we are celebrating another important occasion in poetry—the eighty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Academy of American Poets. For eight decades we have served as our nation’s leading advocate for poets, poetry, and the work of poetry organizations, constantly innovating the ways in which we champion and support poets and help make their work available to the widest readership possible.
We’re pleased to announce that during this milestone year, thanks to support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we will award the newly created Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships, providing $1 million worth of grants to ten to twenty poets serving as laureates of states, cities, counties, U.S. territories, or Tribal nations. In addition to honoring poets’ literary excellence, we aim to spotlight the important role they play in civic life.
Thanks to your vital role as a backer of the Academy of American Poets, we’ll continue amplifying poets as they sound their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world. As our founder, Marie Bullock, wrote upon launching this organization, “There is work to be done!” There still is!
This letter originally appeared in the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of American Poets, the biannual journal of the Academy of American Poets. Copyright © 2019 by the Academy of American Poets. All rights reserved. To receive American Poets, become a member.