by Matt Cohen and Ashley Palmer
Here at Cohen lab we have begun what might be an unending task: making a bibliographic hand list of the reprints of Walt Whitman’s poetry that were issued during his lifetime (1819-1892). The list will include first appearances of his poetry in periodicals, as well as reprints in newspapers, magazines, advertisements, reviews, anthologies, occasional publications, and other venues. We are collaborating with Stephanie Blalock of the University of Iowa, whose work on the reprints of Whitman’s short fiction inspired our own. As Blalock’s scholarship shows, Whitman’s fiction traveled into fascinatingly diverse and little-understood contexts by way of what Meredith McGill has termed nineteenth-century America’s “culture of reprinting.” The same is true of his poems, and we hope this effort to gather the instances of poetry reprints will both afford scholars an opportunity to consider the big picture of Whitman’s career and reputation by way of the landscape of his poetry’s circulation, but also to elucidate individual instances of reprints and their social and political meanings.
Much of the work on the reprints project has started with the wealth of resources the Whitman Archive makes available. Following citations collected on the site, we worked through Elizabeth Lorang and Susan Belasco’s list of Whitman’s Poems First Published in Periodicals to create entries for known appearances of Whitman poems in periodicals. Along the way, we have noted distinguishing information, such as the ways different publications print (or do not print) Whitman’s name, the section of the newspaper in which his poems are printed, and whether the poem is printed whole or as a fragment, in the hopes that this information will be of value to future scholars who might utilize our work.
Another vein of research we have perused through the Whitman Archive comes from its collection of Contemporary Reviews of Whitman’s work. Combing through these reviews, we have been looking for lines of poetry offset within the text that might have attracted a reader’s eye. Many of these offset quotations are brief fragments from longer poems, though we have also found whole poems reprinted within or after reviews. These reviews have come from periodicals with readerships across the United States (from New York and Philadelphia to Cincinnati and Topeka) as well as the world (including London, Glasgow, and Melbourne).
Finally, we are also utilizing databases of nineteenth-century periodicals to uncover instances of Whitman’s poetry reprints. Turning to such resources as Chronicling America, America’s Historical Newspapers, Newspaper Archive, and the Hathi Trust, we are searching titles of and key phrases from Whitman poems in the hopes of locating additional reprinted fragments or whole poems.
For more information, please see our page dedicated to the project.