In commemoration of poet Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday, and to celebrate Bolton as a centre of interest for Whitman scholars and readers, this two-day conference will explore new critical ways of thinking about Whitman. Its vision is to provide contexts and connections developing from Whitman’s influence and ideas in the nineteenth century through to the modern era – particularly as they relate to ideas of community and identity.
The Bolton Whitmanites formed in the mid-1880s as a reading and cultural society. Their papers, letters to and from Whitman, as well as a selection of Whitmania, are held at the Bolton Central Library and Museum – the largest collection related to Whitman outside the US. Whitman’s bicentenary presents a unique opportunity to consider the influence, social and cultural value of his poetic shapes and forms – and even his prose – today. As a pivotal voice reimagining a new and transformative democracy, a re-evaluation of Whitman’s work is now more pertinent than ever.
With the rise of nationalism, and the divisive nature of current political ideologies, the voice of Whitman and reflection of an idealised, democratic American identity, may seem far removed. How can there be a national poet in our divided era, we might ask? How can such a poet produce work that contains multitudes and yet speak without alienating? And how can Whitman’s 19th century kosmos (itself at times contradictory) speak to us today? Listening to Whitman’s voice, we hope to reconsider the answers that exist.