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Some of the dimmest years in Walt Whitman’s life precede the advent of Leaves of Grass in 1855, when he was working as a journalist and fiction writer. Starting around 1850, what he’d begun writing in his personal notebooks was far more enigmatic than anything he’d done before.
One of Whitman’s most secretive projects during this timeframe was a novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle; serialized anonymously in the spring of 1852, and rediscovered and properly published in 2017. The key to the novel’s later discovery were plot notes Whitman had made in one of his private notebooks.
Whitman’s invaluable notebooks have been virtually inaccessible to the public, until now. Maintaining the early notebooks’ wild, syncretic feel and sample illustrations of Whitman’s beautiful and unkempt pages, scholars Zachary Turpin and Matt Miller’s thorough transcriptions have made these notebooks available to all; sharing Whitman’s secret space for developing his poetry, his writing, his philosophy, and himself.
“It is one of the mysteries, maybe the mystery of American literature, that Walt Whitman, a carpenter’s son, a journalist laboring with no special distinction at his trade, produced in the middle of his thirties, one of the most original—and originary—works of American literature in ‘Song of Myself’ and Leaves of Grass. So it is thrilling that Zack Turpin and Matt Miller have given us this endlessly fascinating glimpse into the young poet’s imagination when he is, as he would say later, ‘simmering’ and on the edge of a miracle.”—Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, author, Summer Snow
“The publication of Walt Whitman’s very early poetry, Every Hour, Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Early Notebooks and Fragments, is nothing short of a miracle. Here, made generally available for the first time, are the initial tremblings and rumblings of what would become Leaves of Grass. If I compare it to seeing a planet in its early stages of formation, I don’t consider that an exaggeration.”—Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer–Prize winner, The Hours
“This collection of Walt Whitman’s early notebooks and fragments, expertly collated and edited by Zachary Turpin and Matt Miller, is an indispensable contribution to the Whitman canon. In it, we see Whitman over the years scribbling down thoughts, impressions, and poetic passages that would appear in finished form in Leaves of Grass, his landmark contribution to world literature. Thanks to Turpin and Miller, we now have an accessible, affordable volume that shows Whitman’s spontaneous effusions bubbling to the surface.”—David S. Reynolds, author, Walt Whitman’s America