Ken Chen’s performance piece/essay “Walt and I: What’s American About American Poetry?” begins and ends with the speaker “hanging out” with the Whitman, and “dreams” its way though an exploration of multiple identity issues. I.FRIENDS OF WALT
Walt Whitman and I were hanging out the other day. He had thick and dirty hands and a regal look in his eyes and was so friendly I would not have trusted him if he had not been so shy. But he seemed moved by something strange and deep. He wanted to tell me about all his friends, the whole gang of them. He told me about his secretary, the poet Sadakichi Hartmann, who wrote avant-garde cosmological rhapsodies. "I like them," I said. "It's like László Moholy-Nagy directs the Big Bang."
We walked to Angel Island, where so many lonely men carved their souls into the gray, unlit walls. One of the men was still there, all skeleton and tea-stained smiles. He said, "Did you know the Filipinos came here before the Mayflower? Barbers for the Spanish Armada. Did you know Idaho was once one-third Asian American?" He handed us a Styrofoam cup, the white surface of which appeared crenellated with small grooves and indentations. Walt Whitman saw me looking at the indentations. "I think it's Arabic," he said.