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‘Leaves of Grass’ comes alive

Whitman re-enactor mixes poetry and impersonation

Historical re-enactor Bruce Noll hasn’t tired of impersonating poet Walt Whitman in the 43 years he’s been doing it.

Noll performs tonight in the SUB as a fundraiser for the student publication Scribendi. Scribendi’s faculty adviser Amaris Ketcham helped organize the event and recruited Noll for a performance.

Ketcham said the poetry community in Albuquerque has been requesting it and repeatedly asking Noll when he would do another “Pure Grass” performance.

Noll, a retired UNM professor, said he is a lifelong fan of Whitman’s poetry.

“My passion for ‘Leaves of Grass’ was such that I needed to share it and I wanted other people to hear it,” Noll said. “It’s hard sometimes to connect with Whitman just by reading, but once you hear it … it has a wonderful impact.”

Whitman was a 19th-century American writer known for his influence on English-language poetry. He is considered the father of free verse by many, and his magnum opus “Leaves of Grass” is often cited as the definitive poetry collection of the 20th century. In “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman celebrates nature and humankind.

Noll’s performance takes place on the same level as the audience as he addresses members of the crowd directly. Unlike other living history performers, who often juggle different characters and personalities, Noll commits himself fully to the enactment of Whitman and his poetry.

“I didn’t major in theater. I never took acting lessons or anything. ‘Pure Grass’ just rolled right from the heart,” he said.
Noll has been performing “Pure Grass” for 43 years. In those decades, he’s taken his performance to 26 states and five foreign countries.

“It doesn’t get old. I always look forward to going through my script again and sharing it with other people,” he said.

Noll also channels Whitman’s personality in a program called “Walt Whitman’s America.” In the program, which is sponsored by the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, Noll interacts with the audience and shares stories of Whitman’s life while answering audience questions. “Walt Whitman’s America” has been featured at many colleges and high schools around the state.

“Whitman is still relevant to all of us, no matter what age we’re in,” he said. “He had this vision of America and spirituality that’s not confined to any religion. That relevance is why these performances keep working and why I keep loving to do them.”

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“Pure Grass”
UNM SUB Ballroom C
7 p.m.
students $5,
general admission $7

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