Every Atom | No. 54

Ivy Wilson

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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While Whitman’s words here seem declarative and obvious, I’ve long been mesmerized by how the phrase registers as a wish-fulfillment. For a poet seemingly preoccupied with embodiment and the multivalent processes of becoming, the “sign” here is a veritable, if not vulnerable, acknowledgment that there is yet still some distance between his actual and projected selves, between the conditions of the present and the fantasies of the future. There is, in these words, a promise of an equality to come that the young Whitman desperately wants to will into sheer existence through the aegis of poetry as much as it is a plea for his readers to embrace what James Baldwin, in a different context, would call the “evidence of things not seen.”

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Ivy Wilson is Associate Professor of English and Art, Theory, and Practice at Northwestern University and author of Specters of Democracy.


Cover art by Matt Jorgenson