Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Periodicals Devoted to Whitman
Author:
Folsom, Ed
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Periodicals devoted to the study of Whitman's poetry, ideas, and influence began to appear around the time of the poet's death and have in recent years proliferated. The earliest such periodical was Horace Traubel's monthly paper, The Conservator, which he published in Philadelphia from March 1890 until his death in 1919. Devoted to Felix Adler's Ethical Movement, the paper endorsed a wide range of social and philosophical reform movements, from socialism to antivivisectionism, but above all it carried articles about Whitman, usually offering socialist reform readings of his work (a typical title of an essay was "Walt Whitman's Significance to a Revolutionist"). Traubel also regularly printed his own Whitman-inspired poetry and prose, along with poems about Whitman by other writers. Whitman's words from Democratic Vistas—"Moral conscientiousness, crystalline, without flaw, not godlike only, entirely human, awes and enchants forever"—appeared on the masthead, and ads for and reviews of Whitman's books and books about Whitman appeared in every issue.

Traubel was also instrumental in setting up the Walt Whitman Fellowship, an organization formally begun in 1894 and devoted to the study of Whitman. This group met regularly in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and issued a set of Walt Whitman Fellowship Papers—124 of them over twenty-four years (the number of issues per year varied from two to fifteen). Most of the issues were devoted to the business and programs of the fellowship, but thirty of the issues contained brief but valuable articles about Whitman by writers like Richard Maurice Bucke, Charlotte Porter, Oscar Lovell Triggs, and Thomas Harned. In 1895, Kelly Miller of Howard University gave a speech to the fellowship on "What Walt Whitman Means to the Negro"; it was published as Paper 10 that year, the first extended written comment by an African American about Whitman's significance. Like The Conservator, the Fellowship Papers ceased with Traubel's death in 1919.

The Whitman Fellowship had by this time spawned chapters in other cities, and one of the most active was in Toronto, Canada. The Canadian branch of the fellowship was centered on what came to be known as the Whitman Club of Bon Echo, and this group published a little magazine called The Sunset of Bon Echo; six issues appeared from 1916 through 1920. Flora MacDonald Denison edited the journal and wrote many of its articles; other notable contributors included Traubel and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Denison died in 1921, and the journal died with her.

With the death of the first generation of Whitmanites, no journals devoted to Whitman's work appeared for the next couple of decades. But when the state of New Jersey in 1947 took title to Whitman's Mickle Street house in Camden, the Walt Whitman Foundation (which had in 1946 reorganized and renamed itself, while tracing its lineage back to the original Walt Whitman Fellowship) began to issue The Walt Whitman Foundation Bulletin. The first number appeared in 1948; it was an annual publication with regular contributions by such distinguished scholars as Gay Wilson Allen, Sculley Bradley, and Robert E. Spiller. The journal lasted, however, only through 1955, with its final issue celebrating the centennial of the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

Another Camden-based annual Whitman journal began publication in 1979, this one sponsored by the successor to the foundation, the Walt Whitman Association. Edited by Geoffrey M. Sill, The Mickle Street Review initially focused on poems, stories, and essays celebrating Whitman or showing his influence, but during the final few years (1988–1990), the journal presented the collected papers from important annual Whitman conferences sponsored by the Whitman Studies Program at the Rutgers University Camden campus. These issues—"Whitman and the World," "Whitman and the Foundations of America," "Whitman, Sex, and Gender," and "Whitman and the Visual Arts"—contained work by many eminent Whitman scholars and commentators, and most of these essays were later published in two books (Walt Whitman and the Visual Arts and Walt Whitman of Mickle Street).

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association in Huntington, Long Island, organized in 1949, began issuing its own journal, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Bulletin, in the fall of 1957. A mixture of association news and short articles about Whitman's life and work, the journal, edited by Verne Dyson, lasted only four years. However, in 1979 the Birthplace Association began another journal, West Hills Review: A Walt Whitman Journal. Dedicated to publishing both original poetry and Whitman scholarship, this annual publication lasted until 1988. Over the years, it emphasized poetry far more than scholarship, although significant essays by critics like Gay Wilson Allen, Joann Krieg, Aaron Kramer, and Harold Blodgett appeared there. In 1995, the Birthplace Association restarted West Hills Review in a much reduced format.

The first academic journal devoted to Whitman studies had a modest beginning as a four-page newsletter, the Walt Whitman Newsletter, initially developed by Gay Wilson Allen to publicize events and publications during the 1955 centennial celebration of the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Published for free by New York University Press (which had just announced plans for the Collected Writings of Walt Whitman project), the newsletter was slated to cease at the end of 1955; the press and Allen had no interest in carrying it on. Scholars, however, found Allen's newsletter so valuable that they wanted it continued, and the Detroit Whitman collector, Charles Feinberg, along with William White, a professor at Wayne State University, decided to take on the task, with backing from the Wayne State University Press. Beginning in 1956, the Walt Whitman Newsletter quickly became the central outlet for Whitman scholarship. By 1959 the publication had grown beyond newsletter size and was renamed the Walt Whitman Review. Under White's editorship, and with an advisory board of Allen, Blodgett, and Sculley Bradley, the Review became the place where a whole generation of Whitman scholars first saw their work in print (Harold Aspiz, Mutlu Blasing, Florence Freedman, Scott Giantvalley, George B. Hutchinson, Karl Keller, M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Donald D. Kummings, Jerome Loving, and M. Wynn Thomas are just a few prominent Whitman scholars whose early work appeared there). White also oversaw the production of several special issues and publications, including Walt Whitman in Europe Today and Walt Whitman's Journalism, White's valuable bibliography of Whitman's newspaper pieces.

In 1982 Wayne State University Press abruptly withdrew its support of the Review, and White and Feinberg joined with Ed Folsom to move the journal to the University of Iowa, where, sponsored by Iowa's Graduate College and English Department, it was recast as the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. With White and Folsom as coeditors and an editorial board made up of some of the most renowned Whitman scholars (Allen, Harold Aspiz, Roger Asselineau, Betsy Erkkila, Arthur Golden, Loving, James E. Miller, Jr., and Thomas), the journal grew in size, began to referee submissions rigorously, and published more substantial essays. WWQR continued the tradition of special book-length issues, including a complete collection of Whitman photographs, edited by Folsom, and a supplementary volume of Whitman's correspondence, edited by Edwin Haviland Miller. Folsom took over sole editorship of the journal in 1990. In addition to critical and biographical essays, WWQR now publishes shorter notes, reviews of Whitman-related books, news of interest to Whitman scholars, and an ongoing annotated bibliography of work about Whitman; each volume of the journal contains over two hundred pages.

There have been a variety of other smaller Whitman-related serials. In 1959, the Long Islander, the newspaper Whitman founded and edited, began publishing a "Walt Whitman Page" (later a "Supplement") each year, containing short articles by leading Whitman experts, usually around a single theme. The Whitman Supplement was reprinted and widely distributed. Guest-edited by various Whitman scholars until 1974, the supplement from that point on was compiled by William White until it was discontinued after the 1985 issue. In Japan, William L. Moore of Toho Gakuen University of Music edited Calamus: Walt Whitman Quarterly, International from 1969 through 1986. Twenty-eight issues appeared during its seventeen-year run, each with a handsome calligraphy cover printed on fine Japanese paper. Advised by an international group of Whitman scholars, Moore included in his journal a variety of reprinted essays, essays with an international perspective, and his own essays endorsing evolution as the key to understanding Whitman's work.

Various Whitman organizations and interest groups have in recent years issued newsletters, which often contain short essays on Whitman. The Walt Whitman Association in Camden publishes Conversations (1990– ); the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association on Long Island publishes Starting from Paumanok (1984– ); the Leisure World Walt Whitman Circle in California sponsors a quarterly newsletter edited by Robert Strassburg, The Walt Whitman Circle (1991– ); Fredrick Berndt of San Francisco edited The Bulletin of the Walt Whitman Music Library (1993–1994); and Bruce Noll publishes an occasional newsletter about Whitman performance, Afoot and Lighthearted (1992– ).

Bibliography

Greenland, Cyril, and John Robert Colombo, eds. Walt Whitman's Canada. Willowdale, Ontario: Houslow, 1992.

Hutchinson, George B. "Whitman and the Black Poet: Kelly Miller's Speech to the Walt Whitman Fellowship." American Literature 61 (1989): 46–58.

Sill, Geoffrey M., ed. Walt Whitman of Mickle Street. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1994.

Sill, Geoffrey M., and Roberta K. Tarbell, eds. Walt Whitman and the Visual Arts. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 1992.

White, William. "The Walt Whitman Fellowship: An Account of Its Organization and a Checklist of Its Papers." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 51 (1957): 67–84, 167–169.


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