How Can I Answer the Child?

This past Sunday was Walt Whitman’s birthday. A friend sent me this review of In Walt We Trust by John Marsh, which promises to be a fascinating read that I will have to commit some time to very soon. Accompanying the review is a marvelous comic by Sabrina Jones which illustrates one of my favorite passages from “Song of Myself.” It is often said that Whitman is all ego. I’ve always felt that to be a gross mischaracterization. It would be more accurate to say that Whitman’s ego is All. After all, as he says, “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”


I am taken by this poem by Karen Volkman over at Omniverse. I would classify it as an ekphrastic of dance, which, though not unheard of, is probably not as common as poems about paintings, or even film. What I think Volkman does so well here is evoke the experience of watching dancers through a scrim: “the seem-stain of its edging” is a beautiful image–seeing objects diffused by translucent cloth is like looking at a stain of seeming, a not-quite-solid, not-quite shadow form. “Seem-stain” calls attention to the otherworldliness of the diffused silhouettes, exploring the line between precision of image and abstraction.

The legs of the dancers speak, describing their dance: “This is kind of a step, kind of/sideways flying. This likes defying//space and what defines it.”

I often entertain the idea that all poems are an ars poetica–or, that most poems contain at least one moment where it may be said that they comment on their own making. “Defying space and what defines it” seems to be the aim of this poem, which it achieves with great, gravity-defying aplomb.