see all the prisoners in the prisons”: Poetry and Poverty
Looking out through windows of glass in 1884, or from behind plexiglass in 2005, Walt Whitman and many others have historically appreciated, longed for, and degraded this landscape; how do these stances in place gesture towards and shadow democratic freedom and movement? Daniel Trachtenberg argues that Whitman’s democracy is “ a word he equates more with religion and morality than with representative government and universal suffrage.”  I will explore one such tension within the sign of democracy -- morality and government, as morality and government also signify the gesture, organization, and management of the self that threads a complex sexual body.
the Walt Whitman House and the
And as Avery Gordon writes of haunts: “Following the ghosts is about making a contact that changes you and refashions the social relations in which you are located. It is about putting life back in where only a vague memory or a bare trace was visible to those who bothered to look.” 
Through a museum, a jail, and a poem, this paper rethreads the poet’s words, as to what it means to be “leftover” in Camden, and the sexual and social suffering that haunts this street and these “homes.”
The Walt Whitman House is located in a very visually outstanding urban landscape. However, it is not aggressively empty; the jail across the street is home to too many people. Like the above passage, this jail too disappears African American and Puerto Rican and poor people as crisis; they are part of the devastation that cradles the Walt Whitman House. How might we theorize this silence and haunting? Perhaps a potential for violent resistance, and the human suffering living and haunting this boulevard create a crisis in representation? Edward Said writes, “Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about image and imaginings.” 
Safety and crisis are underlying concepts and preoccupations appearing in accounts of the city as well. The residents, free or here, imprisoned, are marked as bodies that generate crisis and are shadowy presences in the narratives. Foucault writes:
These forms of
silence, the unspeakable or unspoken, hang outside
the Whitman House. For example, the backdoor of the
Between this museum and this
Walt Whitman sought the body and the natural world in his poetry. His house remains in a place, a boulevard where the green of nature is gone and the sexual body is highly repressed, segregated, and punished, learning to see and regulate itself from the side of power. Betsy Erkkila writes of Whitman’s political body:
Many journalists create
In the hot sun, the stench of urine mingles with rotting trash, dog excrement, and green pools of stagnant water…Linda Castaner lives here. She rests her elbows on her front porch, just inches away from ticks that creep toward her bare, tattooed arms. The ticks are no more threatening to her than the muscular young men openly conducting drug deals on the corner. 
overwhelming sense of death, waste, criminality and apathy
sets this scene. It is spectacle, as he describes a place
on the brink of hygiene and health, law and order, and pleasure,
as the men are “muscular and young,” her arms are “bare,
says she still abuses heroin. ‘I’m trying to get my self
together,’ she says as she uses a garden hose to fill a
small plastic pool with water for the neighborhood kids.”
bell hooks writes of forms of settlement: “sexuality has always
provided gendered metaphors for colonization.” The choices women of color make around their
sexuality and their bodies are very much
thrown into crisis in representations in popular
media. For example, one evocation of
Prisons, fostercare homes and homeless shelters teem with fatherless children. An illegitimate baby is 3 times more likely to fail at school, 3 times more likely to commit suicide, and from 20 to 33 times more likely to suffer child abuse than are the children of low-income married parents. His prospects in later life are just as grim: 70 percent of long term prisoners, 60 percent of rapists, and 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without fathers. No urban reform could have a greater effect, if successful, than attacking the culture of single parenthood. 
The trajectory of racially deviant sexual behavior reaches from mother to child, and through the bodies and sexualities of women and men and children of color who make love and life through the hardships of poverty, displacing the idea that life choices are born of the soul, or connected to the spirit of ancestors. Here, the home is substituted with institutional forms of incarceration, and life gives way to death. Love, responsibility and presence are dispelled because there is another organization that works against the myths of the healthy heterosexual American family.
women of color are evacuated from
possessing expressive and creative sexualities, the primary
interest in creating a LGBT community in
This evocation of revitalization and movement invites and creates individual labor as holding the promise of economic justice and balance for this place. Interestingly, C.L.R. James argued that Whitman developed poetic maneuvers to achieve a similar balance; when confronted with social phenomena that skirted his efforts to see resolutions, Whitman resorted to a pattern for substituting the individual with the problematic: “This was a perpetual maneuver of Whitman. Constitutions, laws, institutions, things – none of these were real. The real things were individuals, you and me; over and over again he does it.”  This reading of Whitman’s poetic voice, expresses not only the failure, but also the achievements of American empire. The tangled subject of Whitman’s writings and the politics and processes of American democracy and empire reveal how poetic image and language or the creation of literary history can function to narrate movement and the body, as an invocation of an “Othered” presence, then and now, becomes the threat to, and the mythological sign of, democracy’s heavy advance.
In “Salut Au Monde!” the fragmented body penetrates diverse geography, signaling transgression, presence, and influence on foreign landscapes; this movement is as right as birds or light. National will manifests in “Myself.” A wing, a hand disturbs nature, transgresses form, and moves across the sky and into cities or islands. He describes this reach as a “signal”; it is both born and immortal, etched in the sky, and marks the spaces of death and life -- haunts and homes. Daniel Hoffman states that “Salut Au Monde!” was Whitman’s attempt to write from the position of “En-Masse.” He sees this abandonment of the “single separate person” as the poem’s failure: “Here, and in many other places in Whitman’s work, the will is trying to do the work of the imagination, ideology has replaced inspiration, and the result is a list that is no more poetry than the contents of a telephone book.” 
not telephone book, then map, as this “Myself”
sees, penetrates, and refigures in gesture, inhabited lands
through the sign of
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