From the Archive

Issue 16


Whitman and Traubel

and Traubel


This third issue of the electronic Mickle Street Review sports a new design that pays homage to Whitman’s famous messiness—a messiness remarked on occasionally by his friend, Horace Traubel, about whom this issue revolves.

The revised format is largely the work of our new managing editor, Jesse Merandy, whose expertise has transformed the journal into one that is more fun to read and explore.  On this revamped site, under “Archives,” we will be offering the full run of the print series of MSR(1979-1991); we begin that project, naturally enough, with the first issue.  MSR continues in the tradition of that series, but with this difference: we are dedicated to fanning out from Whitman and his specific cultures to American culture more broadly in an electronic environment that has changed, and is changing, the way we view text, and even the very nature of text.


In his review of volumes 8 and 9 of With Walt Whitman in Camden, Traubel’s detailed recording of Whitman’s daily life in 1891, Richard Poirier makes much of the disarray that defined Whitman’s Mickle Street home:

This … is a man who is content to leave what he has done in life in some natural state of ‘mess,’ as represented by the random assortment of papers on the floor of his sickroom.  The mess is a visible rejection of any proprietary claims that may be made on his life or his work by housekeepers or critics—versions, he would suppose, of the same thing. ‘There is all sorts of debris scattered about—bits of manuscript, letters, newspapers, books,’ Traubel writes of Whitman’s room early on in the first volume.  ‘Near by his elbow towards the window a wastebasketful of such stuff.’ For Whitman it isn’t a mess at all, but a way of assembling things so that he can exert maximum control over them, much as he asserts his authority over Leaves, by claiming he is mystified, while explicators, who order it and sort it out, are not.

As Poirier further states in his review, “The mess functions as an archive for both of them,” that is, for both Whitman and Traubel.  And it is this notion of the archive as palimpsest that I find particularly suggestive.  The “debricity” of Whitman’s room functions as a metaphor not only for America, then, but also for the interwovenness of text in cyberspace, the ways in which texts come together and underwrite each other, with the control over assemblage (ultimate authority) left in the hands of the reader, not the poet, in this case.

The contents of this issue of MSR are more orderly in their layout than the model of hypertext-as-mess would suggest, but they do point the reader in mutlifarious directions—to other pieces in this issue, deeper into the history of this journal, and to texts elsewhere, both on and off the web.  The scholarly articles, poems, feature pieces, retrieved documents, and reviews presented here take up important matters relating not only to Whitman and Traubel and their legacies but to enduring motifs and cultural forms in American life during their day and beyond: the nature of conversation and friendship; the performance of identity; the relation between form and function in art; the ontology of storage and assemblage; the dialectics of discipleship; the politics of labor in the industrial age.


Traubel is a crossroads, and Ed Folsom’s biographical sketch of him is a very useful summary and reminder of that man’s cultural intersections and achievements.  Like Walt, Traubel was in touch with many of the most prominent movements and ideological debates of his day, and an outspoken participant in quite a few of them.  In his monthly publication the Conservator he runs the gamut, from animal rights to women’s rights; he was a prominent figure in both the arts and crafts movement and the ethical culture movement.  His socialist politics put him in dialogue with a vast array of cultural figures, including Camden’s own Mother Bloor, Eugene Debs, and Upton Sinclair, and his deep commitment to social justice tinges almost all of his writings, not to mention his discussions with, and proddings of, Walt.

It is up to this issue to lay out some of the pieces of his puzzle; it is up to the reader to begin the enjoyable work of fitting them together.

Tyler Hoffman

(Many thanks to Jesse Merandy and Evan Roskos for their work on this issue.)

Table of Contents

  • Traubel in Paradise
    by Matt Cohen
    Reflections on the difficulties of transferring Traubel’s With Walt Whitman in Camden into an online, searchable document.
  • Horace Traubel and J. W. Wallace: Beyond Absence
    by Carolyn Masel
    The role of J. W. Wallace and of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship in the early dissemination of Whitman’s poetry and ideas.
  • Conversations With Whitman
    by Peter Gibian
    The importance of talk circles and conversation in Whitman’s life and poetry and in nineteenth-century American culture broadly.
  • The Gospel According to Horace:
    Horace Traubel and the Walt Whitman Fellowship
    by Michael Robertson
    An examination of the disciples of Walt Whitman and the construction of Whitman’s enduring legacy.
  • On The Popular Front: New York City’s Department Store Union Culture, 1937-1941
    by Daniel Opler
    Cultural activism and the politics of labor in 1930’s New York.

Issue 16 Contributors

Matt Cohen focuses his work on database design, bibliographic description of books, and UNIX editing. An Assistant Professor of English at Duke University, Cohen is currently working as the editor in charge of adding Horace Traubel’s nine-volume With Walt Whitman in Camden to the Whitman Archive.

Ed Folsom is the Carver Professor of English at The University of Iowa. He is the co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive and has served as Editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review since 1983. He directed “Walt Whitman: The Centennial Project,” with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Iowa Humanities Board. He is the editor of Walt Whitman: The Centennial Essays (U Iowa P, 1994); co-editor of Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song(Holy Cow!, 1981, rev.ed., 1997); co-editor of Walt Whitman and the World (U Iowa P, 1996); and author of Walt Whitman’s Native Representations (Cambridge UP, 1994).

Thomas Fortenberry is an American author, editor, reviewer, and publisher. Owner of the Mind Fire Press, he has judged many literary contests, including The Georgia Author of the Year Awards and The Robert Penn Warren Prize for Fiction. His award-winning work has appeared internationally in publications such as Poetry Magazine, Left Bank Review, Writer’s Choice, Eternity, and many others.

Peter Gibian teaches in the English Department at McGill University in Montréal. His publications include Mass Culture and Everyday Life(editor and contributor, Routledge 1997), Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation (Cambridge UP, 2001; awarded the Lois Rudnick Prize for Best Book in 2001 and 2002 by NEASA, the New England section of the American Studies Association), as well as essays on Poe, Melville, Twain, Justice Holmes, Wharton and James, cosmopolitanism in nineteenth-century American literature, organic form in Whitman, and Whitman and oratory. He is now completing a new book exploring the workings of a mid-century “culture of conversation” across the spectrum of talk modes and venues as it shaped the writings of a wide range of authors.

Rebecca Gould is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. She has an essay on the North Caucasus forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review and an article on journalistic representations of the Chechen war is forthcoming in the academic journal Reconstruction. Currently, she is based in Tbilisi, Georgia, where she is researching Chechen literature and culture.

Tyler Hoffman is the author of Robert Frost and the Politics of Poetry(New England, 2001). He has published articles on Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Thom Gunn, and contemporary slam poetry. He is editor of the Mickle Street Review.

William Homer is H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Art History Emeritus at the University of Delaware. He retired in 2000. He is the author of books on Robert Henri, Alfred Stieglitz, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and Thomas Eakins and has written articles on Walt Whitman and Eakins. He is currentlypreparing an edition of the complete letters of Eakins.

Miriam Kotzin teaches literature and creative writing at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, where she is the advisor to Maya, the student literary magazine. Her poetry has appeared in The Iron Horse Review, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Boulevard, The Southern Humanities Reiview and Confrontation.

Thomas David Lisk’s fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers, including American Letters and Commentary, Boston Review, Boulevard, and Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. He is Professor of American Literature and Creative Writing at North Carolina State University.

Carolyn Masel’s central field of interest is poetry. She was a Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K., for twelve years. There she had the opportunity to instigate the cataloguing of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship archives at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester and the Bolton Central Library, about which she has published a number of articles. She returned to Melbourne, Australia, in 2003. She currently holds an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Melbourne and is teaching at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. In addition to American writing, her interests include Australian and Canadian literature.

Daniel Opler teaches at Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. Center for Labor Studies, Empire State College.

Michael Robertson is Professor of English at the College of New Jerseyand author of Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature.

Alan Botsford Saitoh teaches at Kanto Gakuin University in Japan. His book of poems, mamaist: learning a new language, was published in 2002.

Janine Van Patten received her Master of Arts degree in English from Rutgers University, Camden.

Part of the Camden Online Poetry Project.
Copyright |  Rutgers University – Camden.
Supported in part by a grant from the
Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.