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Walt Whitman, Judith Harris And Whitman Again: What To Read On Election Day


And now to help you stay steady through this long night, some poetry, shared with us by Tess Taylor.

TESS TAYLOR: Having a poem nearby can actually make any of us feel less lonely because it's as if we have this force - the poem - that invites us into conversation and reminds us what human breath and human language can do.

KELLY: That is poet and poetry proselytizer Tess Taylor. She's got three poems to point us to, starting with some lines from "First Fight. Then Fiddle." That's a 1949 sonnet by Gwendolyn Brooks.

TAYLOR: (Reading) First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string with feathery sorcery. Muzzle the note with hurting love. The music that they wrote bewitch, bewilder.

I think in this Brooks poem, there's this idea of keeping the instrument of yourself ready - at the ready to act and to act out your beliefs. And I think this is just really beautiful. I think that's what we do when we vote.

KELLY: Another poet to consider tonight - the American classic, Walt Whitman.

TAYLOR: It's hard to have a conversation about poetry and democracy without mentioning Walt Whitman.

KELLY: Taylor says there are lines from his poem "For You O Democracy" that remind us of America's foundational promises - promises like the idea of the dream.

TAYLOR: It's worth reading them aloud so that we can connect ourselves with that vision once again.

(Reading) I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America and along the shores of the great lakes and all over the prairies. I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other's necks by the love of comrades, by the manly love of comrades.

KELLY: And finally, Taylor shared lines from a 2012 poem by Judith Harris called "A Mother Goes To Vote" (ph).

TAYLOR: (Reading) We walked five blocks to the elementary school, my mother's high heels crunching through playground gravel. We entered through a side door. My mother stepped alone into the booth, pulling the curtain behind her. I could only see the backs of her calves in crinkled nylons. A partial vanishing, then reappearing, pocketbook crooked on her elbow, our mayor's button pinned to her lapel. Even then, I could see - to choose is to follow what has already been decided.

As we found our way home to the cramped house, the devoted porch light left on, the customary meatloaf, I remember in the classroom converted into a voting place, there were two mothers conversing, squeezed into the children's desk chairs.

KELLY: Taylor says it takes an ordinary space - an elementary school - and turns it into something special - a civic space.

TAYLOR: This is just going in person and waiting in line in this transformed space to do this very important public act. But then the public act happens sort of privately. There's her nylons - are behind a curtain, and it's a little bit like democracy meets "The Wizard Of Oz." And people come home a little transformed from this action.

KELLY: Yes, but what if you're still waiting in line to be transformed?

TAYLOR: I hope that for people that are spending an awful long time in line at the polls right now, poetry can also be a form of companionship.

KELLY: That is poet Tess Taylor with her recommendations for Election Day poetry. She released two collections this year titled "Rift Zone" and "Last West: Roadsongs For Dorothea Lange."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MIDNIGHT'S "THE YEARS (PROLOGUE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.