Rosalinda Ruiz-Scarfuto is a WALK PhD student. Her research looks at what she calls Re-Play on the Poetic Canvas: Investigations into the transfer of poetic metaphors on the poetic canvas inspired by the “beat” of walking a landscape inside the framework of phenomenological and metaphysical theories focusing on the differences of tactile and non-tactile experiences.

The aim of her PhD proposal is to investigate how the “beat” of the walking paths carved out by the poets Machado, Snyder, Whitman and Wordsworth can inspire an innovative poetic collage: verbal, vocal, kinaesthetic and visual linked in Buddhist symmetry.

The text on this page traces a walk undertaken by Rosalinda in the footsteps of Whitman.

Walt Whitman was born on Long Island, New York and wrote his masterpiece Leaves of Grass inspired by his homeland landscape. Friends of the Hempstead Plains is an active group that preserves a part of the original precious grasslands that once covered most of Long Island.  “For over 350 years the Hempstead Plains has played a key role in the history of Long Island as the only true prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains.” September is the season when the grasses bloom and it was a perfect time to enjoy a walk and poetry workshop accompanied by Professor Betsy Gulotta (biology) and Maxwell Wheat (first poet laureate of Nassau Country).

There was a light breeze brushing against our faces and a silver cloud lining above us which offered a special light and ambience for the poetic encounter with the prairie heirloom grasses.  Delicate hues of yellow buttercups, rosy pink petals and ivory white blossoms poked their heads out from the ochre, saffron and copper long stems that whispered along the trail as they danced in the gentle wind.  It was a beautiful way to ignite our quills.

I imagined Walt Whitman breathing deep among theses grasses, and taking a rest from time to time to contemplate his lifelong poem.  He had written it over and over for a span of 30 years and dedicated it to all grasses. I had asked the pertinent question to Max if there was a specific grass aligned to the poem. Max, who is in his nineties, nodded and indicated that it was homage to grasses in general. I walked side by side with him at a slow pace.  Max and I with notepad in hand were jotting down notes from Betsy’s story of the grasslands in biological and cultural terms as she is a decedent of the Mayflower. We laughed at the “hot pink” Sandplain Gerardia thatjumped out to catch us by surprise in the special section preserved for this endangered species.

We walked back dispersed, each of us taking special notice of our favourite blooms. I hung back to soak up this rare moment when the grasses reach for the sky and show their colours. I wondered if I might find Walt’s hat somewhere lying around the grass. I stretched out and looked up at the silver clouds and let the grasses paint my face with their brush strokes, fine and delicate wisps. Long Island never felt so fine from the ground up after a lovely walk between the poet and biologist who came to love the grasses; I was beginning to understand but still a novice. I hope to continue walks here on the plains and throughout Long Island to discover Whitman’s trails and reflect on the leaves of grass that inspire poetic wisdom for the “Song of the Self.”

Rosalinda, September 13, 2014