While I was in DC a couple months ago my friend and I found ourselves with a couple extra hours before seeing Coriolanus at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. We decided to explore the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian. In addition to some beautiful artwork we found a special exhibit that was closing later that month.
The Poetic Likeness exhibit featured portraits of famous modern American poets paired with their own words. There were busts and paintings, photographs and drawings of poets like Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, and Robert Frost. Here’s a brief description from the exhibits’ brochure.
“In the twentieth century, American poets created a literature that was both responsive to history as they experienced it and linguistically inventive in a manner that influenced writing worldwide. Whereas previously American poetry was largely derivative branch of British verse, by the beginning of the 1900s it was poised to declare its independence as a distinctive literary tradition.
Poetic Likeness charts the biographies and careers of the major voices of American poetry in the twentieth century, drawing significantly on the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. Poets who are considered particularly inventive and influential – the makers of modernism – are given a cluster of portraits to signal their importance. But all the poets represented in this exhibition are delightful in the variety and inventiveness of their writing. Their work deserves reading and rereading, both on its own merits and also as evidence of poetry’s essential role in creating modern American culture.”
The exhibit was wonderful. I love it when two forms of art can meet in such a fascinating way. It was all the more enjoyable because we had unintentionally stumbled upon it. Poetry has never been my literary strong suit, but it’s something I continually try to appreciate and learn more about. I love that this exhibit took a specific interest in how poetry is woven into the fabric of our country and it’s one more way that we have developed our own identity as a young nation.
Photos by moi.