Patti Smith celebrates Walt Whitman’s legacy through word and song

1 minute read

An iconic American poet will celebrate another this weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as Patti Smith delivers the Susan Rose Hirschhorn Berend lecture in honor of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday. Presented in conjunction with Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy, Smith’s version of a lecture will be as distinctive as her poetry, prose, music, and visual art.

Smith is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and the author of Just Kids, a 2010 memoir of artist development in 1970s Manhattan, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. She may be best known for combining poetry with rock music and a punk ethos on albums such as Horses (1975). For this reason, Smith has been called the godmother of punk, as well as the punk poet laureate. Fittingly, there is something a little punk about the vision and aesthetics of Walt Whitman, the evening’s honoree.

Whitman’s poetry was highly controversial during his time, and his frank treatment of the body, including sexuality, still has the power to unsettle or offend readers today. He is best known for Leaves of Grass, the masterwork Whitman first published in 1855 and revised over and over until his death in 1892. The seemingly freewheeling style of his writing and its messages of inclusion and equality have earned Whitman nicknames such as “the father of free verse” and “the poet of democracy.” Widely considered one of the most important American poets, he influenced beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg. Their style informed Smith’s, and Whitman and Smith share local roots: he spent his final years in Camden, and she spent her early ones in Germantown and New Jersey.

Patti Smith’s sold-out lecture takes place Thursday, May 30, at 7pm at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation