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University of Iowa News Release

 

Sept. 10, 2009

UI Press marks 150th anniversary of 'Leaves of Grass' with facsimile edition

"Leaves of Grass, 1860: The 150th Anniversary Facsimile Edition" of the Walt Whitman classic will become available from the University of Iowa Press on Sept. 15.

The book -- part of the ongoing Iowa Whitman Series that celebrates and explores his influence on modern and contemporary writers in America and around the world -- will be available at bookstores or directly from the UI Press, by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at http://www.uiowapress.org. Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from the Eurospan Group online at http://www.eurospangroup.com/bookstore.

In May 1860, Whitman published a third edition of "Leaves of Grass." Printed during a period of regional, ideological and political divisions, written by a poet intimately concerned with the idea of a United States as "essentially the greatest poem," this new edition was his last best hope for national salvation.

"Leaves of Grass, 1860" faithfully reproduces Whitman's attempt to create a "Great construction of the New Bible" to save the nation on the eve of civil war and, for the first time, frames the book in historical, rather than literary, terms.

In his third edition, Whitman added 146 new poems to the 32 that comprised the second edition, reorganized the book into a bible of American civic religion that could be cited chapter and verse, and included erotic poetry intended to bind the nation in organic harmony.

This 150th anniversary edition includes not only a facsimile reproduction of the original 1860 volume but also an introduction by antebellum historian and Whitman scholar Jason Stacy -- a faculty member at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville -- that situates Whitman in 19th-century America as well as annotations that provide detailed historical context for Whitman's poems.

Robert Roper, author of "Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War," wrote, "The University of Iowa Press continues its indispensable service to Whitman scholarship with this new edition of the 1860 'Leaves of Grass.' Jason Stacy refrains from calling the 1860 edition the greatest of all the editions that Whitman published in his lifetime, so we will have to do it for him: Those that came before were smaller, while those that came after represent fallings-away from this towering and encompassing enchantment, the greatest book yet from an American poet.

"Stacy understands the 1860 'Leaves' as an instance of political history as well as of inspiration, and his unraveling of Walt's motives as he conceived his New Bible of spirit and nationhood is richly persuasive."

Poet Mark Doty commented, "By 1860 Whitman had written nearly all his great poems. He'd brought order to the sprawling miracle of 'Song of Myself,' completed the tender and radical lyrics of 'Calamus,' and written the haunted testament to art's origins that he'd later call 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.'

"Thus the 1860 edition of 'Leaves of Grass' is as close as he came to a new American gospel: a visionary text for a dreamed, possible nation. Here, in its wild and fiery form, is the first truly American book of poems -- an exuberant ghost that still startles, haunting both our poetry and our struggle toward democracy."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Allison Means, UI Press, allison-means@uiowa.edu. Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu