Capital Poetry

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Photo: Walt Whitman Poem at the Dupont Circle Metro StationThe escalator ride descending into Dupont Circle Metro Station (20th & Q Sts. NW) never ceases to amaze me in its steepness – and it’s not even the tallest one in Washington, D.C. (that would be Wheaton Station, which, at a whopping 230 feet, makes it the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere). I cringe every time I see women carelessly rushing down the steps in heels.

So who is it that encourages me to embrace such death-defying descents every afternoon? None other than Walt Whitman. In 2007, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities engraved the last stanza of Whitman’s poem “The Wound-Dresser” into the enormous granite walls surrounding the Dupont Circle escalators. Whitman lived in Washington for ten years, from 1862 to 1873, working various jobs and devoting much of his time to caring for the many wounded Civil War soldiers flooding into the city at the time.

This isn’t the only landmark for poetry-lovers visiting the nation’s capital. The Poetry Foundation has mapped out over forty locations throughout the city where famous poets like Robert Frost, Yusef Komunyakaa and inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander have walked, talked and left their mark. You can download maps and MP3s of the Poetry Foundation’s Washington, D.C., Poetry Tour for free on their website. Following the Northwest Poetry Tour, you will pass by Langston Hughes’ 12th St YMCA residence and hear clips of D.C. stories recounted by Langston Hughes himself.

Photo: Busboys and Poets Bookstore and CafeI first learned of Langston Hughes’ connection with D.C. through Andrew Carroll’s Here is Where project. Carroll visited D.C.’s Wardman Park Hotel, the place where Hughes, then a busboy, was first discovered as a poet by famous writer Vachel Lindsay. Not allowed to attend the whites-only poetry reading, Hughes slipped Lindsay three of his poems while Lindsay was eating dinner in the dining room. Lindsay loved Hughes’ work and read it aloud at his next poetry reading — and the rest is history. The Wardman Park Hotel was the first site to receive a historic marker as a result of the Here is Where campaign.

Another location included in the Poetry Foundation tour is Busboys and Poets, a restaurant, bookstore and fair-trade market named for Langston Hughes, and established in 2005 in the heart of the historic U Street Corridor.

(There are now two additional locations – one on 5th & K and the other in Arlington.) From June 11-19, Busboys will be opening their doors early (7:30 a.m.) in honor of the World Cup. “So you can enjoy breakfast while you enjoy the game!”

Keep checking our IT blog for other great World-Cup-watching news, and if you’re looking for poetic landmarks in your area, Poets.org’s National Poetry Map is a great way to get started.

Photo: Above, Walt Whitman inscription, by hybrid.dc via Flickr’s Creative Commons; Below, Busboys and Poets Bookstore and Cafe, by Krista Rossow/National Geographic Traveler

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