Still talking about Whitman

By: Kelsey Healey

One might wonder how much there is left to say about an author as widely studied as Walt Whitman. Apparently, quite a lot.

The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review is a peer-reviewed journal produced by the University of Iowa.   Founded in 1983, the journal publishes scholarly articles, essays, and book reviews dealing with Whitman’s life, work, and influence.  Anyone can submit work to be considered for publication (provided that it is compliant with the copyright and publication policies) but only a few (roughly 4-9) articles are published in each issue. Most issues consist of a few critical essays, one book review, and a brief article on some new piece of relevant information or discovery.  Overall, there are a wide variety of topics covered, but there seems to be an emphasis on the discovery of new connections between Whitman and other writers or artists, and new ways of looking at Whitman’s relationship with American culture.

One trend that stands out is the sheer number of essay titles that include the phrases: “never-before-seen,” “previously unknown,” “recently discovered,” etc.  It is interesting that there is still new information being unearthed about Whitman, and there is still more primary-source material for scholars to look at. One issue includes a “previously unrecorded” photograph. Another refers to a recently discovered note on the inside of one of Whitman’s notebooks, and another refers to two previously undocumented reviews of Leaves of Grass. Other articles  make seemingly unlikely new connections that build on our body of knowledge. For example, one article explores the connections between Whitman and the Korean writer, Yi Hyoseok, and demonstrates how Western influence and Whitman’s persona in Leaves of Grass appear in some of Yi Hyoseok’s work. Other, smaller trends that appear in recent issues of the Walt Whitman Quarterly include a re-examination of Whitman’s relationship with the American South, and new perspectives on the homo-erotic elements in his work, based on re-reading and looking at Whitman’s work in new contexts. I think all of these trends point to what we have been discussing in class – that literature is not a stagnant thing, nor does it exist in a vacuum.

People often say that the more times you read a particular book, or visit a particular place, the more you will find there. Whitman is like that.

One of the things about this journal that I found most interesting, and super helpful, is that each issue contains an updated annotated bibliography of Whitman scholarship. This bibliography is also available as a searchable database through the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review website.


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