Reflecting on Ripples: the "By the People" Walt Whitman Review-a-thon - National Council of Teachers of English
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Reflecting on Ripples: the “By the People” Walt Whitman Review-a-thon

This post was written by NCTE member and President-Elect Alfredo Celedón Luján.


Access the video recording from the NCTE and Library of Congress “By the People” Walt Whitman Review-a-Thon: 



At the recent “By the People Walt Whitman Review-a-thon” hosted by NCTE and the Library of Congress (LOC) on May 1, facilitator Cheryl Lederle asked me how last year’s Walt Whitman Transcribe-a-thon had impacted my teaching practice. How did my virtual transcription experience at the Library of Congress affect my pedagogy? How did it ripple to my students and their writing?

Ad libbing is not my forte, so I don’t think I answered fully, but I’ve thought about this a bit more and offer these reflections.

First, looking at Whitman’s original texts and seeing his erasures, cross-outs, and strike-throughs reminded me that even iconic writers revised.

If revision was good for them, wouldn’t it be good for us? That is, as I reminded my students after the LOC experience: think; write; sit on your writing; read your own writing; proof; edit; revise.

This is nothing new for any teacher of English/writing. This process is ideally replicated by each student—with one exception—I noticed that some of Whitman’s erasures and/or cross-outs were so thorough that the words underneath cannot be read. They are gone forever.

This is different in the 21st century. Words, lines, stanzas, paragraphs can be moved around, deleted, and saved with the touch of a key. This means those deleted, manipulated, and saved words can be thought through and reconsidered in later drafts.

It makes me wonder if Whitman reconsidered the words he erased or scratched out. The transcriber of the original text can only guess.

Below, in excerpts, you can see the evolution my students go through to get from the geographical and paradoxical lines of Walt Whitman and Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales to their own. The idea is to show the progression from reading to writing using geographical references as Whitman and Gonzales did, also including paradoxical elements in the poem. Natalie did a great job of that, and I especially liked her two last lines—the reality of her stay-at-home from school encapsulated beautifully at the end of her poem.


An excerpt from “Song of Myself”
Section 16
Walt Whitman

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise
. . .
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
. . .
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the
limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
. . .
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion. . . .


An Excerpt from “I Am Joaquín/Yo Soy Joaquín”
Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales
Read full poem:

I am Cuauhtémoc, proud and noble,
leader of men, king of an empire civilized
beyond the dreams of the gachupín Cortés,
who also is the blood, the image of myself.
I am the Maya prince.
I am Nezahualcóyotl, great leader of the Chichimecas.
I am the sword and flame of Cortes the despot
And I am the eagle and serpent of the Aztec civilization.
I owned the land as far as the eye
could see under the Crown of Spain,
and I toiled on my Earth and gave my Indian sweat and blood
for the Spanish master who ruled with tyranny over man and
beast and all that he could trample
I was both tyrant and slave.
. . .

I am the despots Díaz
And Huerta
And the apostle of democracy,
Francisco Madero.
I am
The black-shawled
Who die with me
Or live

I am faithful, humble Juan Diego,
The Virgin of Guadalupe,
Tonantzín, Aztec goddess, too.
I rode the mountains of San Joaquín.
I rode east and north
As far as the Rocky Mountains,
. . .
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ.



Excerpt from “Mi Sangre”
Leslie Peña
Monte del Sol Charter School, 7th grade
Santa Fe, New Mexico

I am La Reina de Durango
I believe in los milagros de nuestra morenita.
. . .
I hear the sound of the river while walking down Chimayo
I want everyone to see the beauty of mi gente.
. . .
I touch la tierra de Gran Morelos, Chihuahua.
. . .
I say “si se puede”
. . .
I hope one day we will understand diversity.
I understand what immigrants go through.
I will never lose hope.
I am La Reina de Durango.


Excerpt from “I Am”
Natalie Fagan
Monte del Sol Charter School, 7th grade
Santa Fe, New Mexico

I am from the glare of the sun on Abiquiu Lake at 1:30 in the afternoon
I am happy because I have my family and friends
and sad because I feel sort of lost when I am not with them.

I am from the rhythm of Fix Me by Cuco
dripping into my soul . . .
I am from Santa Fe, NM
Home alone blasting Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, dancing with my dog Max
I am weak on my own
I am strong with my family and with my close friends.
. . .
I look up at the stars while I’m floating in my hot tub
My dad showing me the constellations around the north star
. . .
I am imprisoned with quarantine in place,
I am free without the weight of having to look good and be happy when I go to school.



Alfredo Celedón Luján teaches English and Basketball at Monte del Sol School, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is NCTE President Elect.