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National Portrait Gallery looks at American poets

By Dave Rosenthal

4:32 PM EDT, October 12, 2012

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The National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition, “Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets,” uses portraiture, biography and verse to explore the people who created a distinctive, American voice.

Walt Whitman's free verse in "Leaves of Grass," (1855), was a shocking departure from literary tradition, the museum notes -- both for its form and for the inclusion of topics that described ordinary life. (That mirrors the equally shocking mid-century shift to realism by painters such as Courbet in France.) In the decades to follow, poets from Ezra Pound to Langston Hughes (shown here in a painting by Winold Reiss) to Sylvia Plath took up the charge.

The show "features men and women from our rich collection who used verse to help us
understand what it means to be an American. Together they tell a story about the development of an American voice.” said Wendy Wick Reaves, interim director of the National Portrait Gallery -- which, I believe, is an overlooked gem among the Smithsonian museums.

The exhibition runs from Oct. 12 through April 28, 2013.