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News 12 Entertainment Journalist and Emcee Elisa DiStefano and Entertainment Journalist TV Host Cognac Wellerlane pose for a photo-op at the Favorite Poem Project at The Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington, NY

Walt Whitman Regina Hunt - Trustee South Country School Board & Library recites her favorite poem at the Favorite Poem Project at The Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington, NY

TV Host and Entertainment Journalist Cognac Wellerlane Stands next to a portrait of Poet Walt Whitman at the Walt Whitman Birthplace.

On Sunday April 17, 2016 the community of Huntington gathered at the Walt Whitman Birthplace for a presentation of Democratic Vistas, Multicultural Voices for the Favorite Poem Project. The Favorite Poem Project was founded by Robert Pinsky after the Library of Congress appointed him US Poet Laureate in 1997. Pinsky put out a nationwide call for Americans to send in their favorite poems. He believed that, contrary to stereotype, Americans from all walks of life do read poetry and particular poems have profound, personal meanings for individuals.
Pinksy’s project ignited a fire that spread the country with communities holding their own Favorite Poem readings. The Library of Congress videotaped for their archives 50 individuals reading their favorite poems. Walt Whitman Birthplace Association was very excited to offer their very own Favorite Poem Project. Robert Pinsky is serving as their 2016 Poet in Residence appearing at the Walt Whitman Birthplace on June 4, 2016.
The Favorite Poem Project – Multicultural Voices is part of the Walt Whitman’s Birthplace Associations 2016 program series. Democratic Vistas: Voices of Democracy is sponsored by the NY Council for the Humanities.

Entertainment Journalist Elisa DiStefano served as Emcee for the event. Elisa DiStefano is versatile host and seasoned award winning featured reporter. With over a decade of experience in live and breaking news, Elisa reports regularly on the red carpet and at celebrity events featuring A-list talent. She covers the Hamptons Summer scene extensively with access to exclusive events. Elisa was voted Best Local TV reporter by the Long Island Press several years running. She has been honored for her work on her weekly animal adoption segment and was also named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Cancer Society. Elisa enjoys volunteering her time to help a variety of causes and hosts many charity events including her own Sneakers and Sandals Beach Ball benefiting local organizations. Ms. DiStefano is a graduate of Boston University College of Communications and Delta Gamma alumni.

Not only did I interview Elisa Di Stefano but I also talked to Executive Director Cynthia Shor of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association about the meaning and importance of Poetry.

When asked what distingished a piece of writing as a poem, Mrs. Shor reveals "Well, it’s all about the language. So the language… if it doesn’t rhyme then it has to have other beauty and the beauty can be in the rhythm, it can be in the repetition of the sounds, the repetition of the initial letter and that is what adds the beauty to it. Sometimes there are internal rhymes. So there might be two words next to each other but they don’t rhyme at the end of the line, and so that is the technical skillful part of poetry, and then the other part of poetry like any art is inspiration. So the writer or poet must take the inspiration and channel it through the words using the skills that they can and leave it up to the community of readers to see if it is poetry or not but it doesn’t have to rhyme."

In 1819, Walt Whitman was born in a farmhouse in West Hills built by his father circa 1810. The Birthplace was restored in 2001 and it is a fine example of native Long Island craftsmanship. The Birthplace is the only NYS Historic Site on Long Island listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, the White House Millennium Council named it an “American Treasure.” In 2007, the Walt Whitman Trail, which begins at the Birthplace, was designated a National Recreational Trail by the US Dept. of the Interior.

Whitman’s collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, stands among the masterpieces of world literature. Scholars have name Whitman the “Poet of Democracy” and “America’s Shakespeare.”

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