Indulge in a little Walt worship this weekend.

High on Grass 

Indulge in a little Walt worship this weekend.

"The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem." That's what Walt Whitman wrote in the preface to Leaves of Grass, his quintessential ode to the American experience. After its publication in July 1855, the work was criticized for its passionate eroticism, its frank sensuality and its celebration of self-love as much as for its atypical form and unconventional use of language. This weekend, Whitman fans can commemorate the 150th birthday of the poem at the Belger Arts Center (2100 Walnut Street), thanks to Ryan Kelly. Kelly, a 2002 ceramics graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, constructs giant heads out of papier-mâché, fabric and clay (the medium he uses most often) to form what he calls "Mr. Potato Head-style" sculptures of the famous folks Whitman met over his 72 years. Imagine a who's who of the most significant political and artistic figures of the 19th century: Whitman's fellow writers Longfellow, Cooper, Emerson and Poe; presidents Jackson, Grant, Taylor and Van Buren. The sole female on the list? Opera singer Marietta Alboni. Ryan Kelly: The Sesquicentennial Whitmaniacs Congress opens at 6 p.m. Friday and runs through January 6. Call 816-474-3250 or see www.belgerartscenter.org for more information. — Ray T. Barker

Tune in Tokyo

This style star took a serious turn.

With Gwen Stefani's Harajuku girls labeled the hottest Asian export to hit the United States, fashionistas and other interested parties should take notice of someone who really knows about Japanese culture and style. Amanda Mayer Stinchecum is a veteran of the Fashion Institute of Technology and Women's Wear Daily who holds a doctorate in Japanese and comparative literature. She comes to Johnson County Community College's Carlsen Center (12345 College Boulevard in Overland Park, 913-469-4445) to discuss the relationship between life and art in Japanese textiles. "Working in the fashion industry, she saw commercially the influences from Japan and eventually sought to better know the culture and the people," says Sheilah Philip, director of JCCC's theater department. Friday's 7 p.m. lecture is a prelude to JCCC's Eighth Annual Greater Kansas City Japan Festival on Saturday and Sunday. See www.kcjapanfestival.com for details. — Kate Smith

In Good Company

Lake Wobegon comes to Kansas City.

By Jason Harper Anyone who's heard A Prairie Home Companion knows that Garrison Keillor is a terrible singer. But, man, is he a good talker. Never in the history of entertainment has such a self-deprecating, socially clueless host been such a long-standing source of liberal wisdom and classic American satire. Yes, his atonal yowling drives the children of public-radio buffs to acts of self-mutilation, but this is the guy who figured out that ketchup is inherently funny and that even Lutherans like to screw. Hear him talk — not sing — about perpetually deflecting the title "America's Greatest Storyteller" at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Carlsen Center (12345 College Boulevard in Overland Park, 913-469-4445). Admission starts at $25. — Jason Harper

Trailer-Made

A collection of artsy reads hit the road.

In another step toward Canadian-American unity, the Montreal and Philadelphia-based project Mobilivre-Bookmobile project, an exhibit of artists' books, 'zines and independent publications touring in an Airstream trailer, parks at the H&R Block Artspace (16 East 43rd Street, 816-472-4852) from 2:30 to 8 p.m. Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday. Stop by to read or to meet an emerging artist. See www.mobilivre.org. — Rebecca Braverman

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