Climate Art and the Legacy of Walt Whitman

By Peterson Toscano

This month, I share some of my own climate story. In doing so, I evoke the spirit of American poet Walt Whitman. After I experienced a breakdown and breakthrough concerning climate change, I took a year off to study the topic. Throughout that year, I found myself drawn to Whitman and his work.

I discovered there was a lot more to the bard than just his famous book, Leaves of Grass. Whitman grew from an aimless young man, to a dynamic new poetic prophet, to a tender and faithful caregiver to young men devastated by the American Civil War. I stress how, similar to the need to increase our empathy during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, climate change requires an opening of the heart. Whitman models this beautifully in the ways he cared for wounded and dying soldiers.

Influenced by Gary Schmidgall’s book, Walt Whitman: A Gay Life, I recreate the moment of Whitman’s first breakthrough. It happened during an evening at the opera when he heard the Italian diva Madame Marietta Alboni. Her voice pierced Whitman and opened up his artistic soul. You will hear Fac ut Portem from Rossini’s Stabat Mater, available onarchive.org, as I narrate the moment.

Next month: Lindsay Linsky, a Bible-believing Christian in Georgia and the author of Keep It Good: Understanding Creation Care through Parables. In her book, she seeks to break through environmental apathy and partisan noise to show Christians God’s simple yet beautiful message of creation stewardship.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

(Top image by Amador Loureiro from Unsplash)

This article is part of The Art House series.

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As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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