The Great Sympathetic: Walt Whitman and the North American Review

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Edited by J. D. Schraffenberger

ISBN: 978-0-915996-00-1

"This is an inspired and inspiring collection, tracking Whitman's appearance and continuing presence in one of America's most influential and longest-lived journals. Near the end of his life, Whitman found a home in the North American Review and published numerous prose pieces here, registering his thoughts on the future of American poetry (and it's past), reflecting on the Civil War and his country's love of slang, and defending his most sexual poems. Not only does this collection gather Whitman's own writing from NAR, it collects the tensed and shifting commentary on Whitman published in its pages from 1856 through the first two decades of the twentieth century, from one of the earliest reviews of Leaves of Grass through a series of essays that struggle with the meaning of Whitman's work and try to determine whether he is a true original or a fraud, an inspiring model or a dangerous precedent for future poets. And then we arrive at the truly exhilarating part of the collection, as we listen to poets from the past three or four decades responding to Whitman in their own powerful, lively, and evocative poems. The Great Sympathetic takes us from when Whitman was alive right up to our own day, where we discover that, even though he published his final piece in NAR within a year of his death, he continues to live both in the pages of this distinguished journal and in the teeming Whitmanesque imaginations of new generations of poets—most notably Martín Espada whose unforgettable words, open and close this remarkable book."

—Ed Folsom, Editor, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and the University of Iowa Press’s Whitman Series, and Co-Director of the Walt Whitman Archive

“The North American Review is hospitable to new, strange views; invites, accepts, and that is a gift these days,” Whitman remarked about the magazine that dared publish one of his most extended discussions on pornography and sexual candor, “A Memorandum at a Venture” (1881). The North American Review’s openness to the likes of Whitman is a gift for us too, and is neatly delivered in this eclectic, entertaining collection of essays and poems. To celebrate its 200th anniversary, NAR presents the historic relationship between America's greatest poet and America’s oldest literary magazine—through such writings as one of the earliest reviews of Leaves of Grass, Whitman's progressive essay on “Slang in America,” and a generous selection of Whitman-inspired poetry published in NAR’s last fifty years. J.D. Schaffenberger, NAR’s associate editor and a poet himself, introduces the complex and colorful history of the Review, which began as a showcase for “the best that American minds had to offer.” Poet Martín Espada discusses the collection’s intriguing title in the “Foreward” and exemplifies Whitman's “great sympathetic” in two new poems."

—Karen Karbiener, New York University, Public scholar and organizer of New York's annual “Song of Myself” Marathon

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