Every Atom | No. 199

Shane McCrae

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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I annotate spaces. The spaces I annotate appear in the last line of “Song of Myself,” which reads:


I stop some where waiting for you


After giving his reader a world in the poem, again and again stopping to add to that world with this detail or that detail—often, even as he himself has stopped, infusing his descriptions with motion—here, in the last line of the poem, Whitman stops not only himself, but also—because the space between “some” and “where” creates a wonderful ambiguity—he stops some “where,” some part of the world, to wait for his reader. Is that “where” a part of the world in the poem, or is it a part of the world outside of the poem, the reader’s world? There’s no way to know, of course, but I like to think that the lack of punctuation at the end of the line suggests the world outside the poem is stopped—that in that second, also ambiguous space, Whitman reaches from the poem to stop the world outside it, or at least that part of the world his reader occupies. That last line stops the world for me, and in the stillness I find Whitman.

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Shane McCrae's most recent books are The Gilded Auction Block (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) and In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), which won the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Prize for Poetry, and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the William Carlos Williams Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer's Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA. He is the Poetry Editor at Image, teaches at Columbia University, and lives in New York City.


Cover art by Sarah Pauls