Sandra Rose Maley, Guest Editor

Introduction to the Winter 2004 Issue
(Volume 6, Number 1)

Co-Sponsored with the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman
Part of the City-wide festival, "DC Celebrates Whitman: 150 Years of Leaves of Grass"

Mystic Currents

Great is life . . and real and mystical.
                                Walt Whitman

After reading Leaves of Grass, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Walt Whitman: “"Dear Sir, I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of 'Leaves of Grass.' I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit & wisdom that American has yet contributed." Beltway Poetry Quarterly and the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman are not blind to the importance of this year's 150th anniversary of that “"wonderful gift”" and join together in this special issue of Beltway to commemorate the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855).

Whitman set himself up as the representative poet for the new nation in that first edition, for which he and the Rome Brothers set the type and chose the frontispiece, the “"carpenter portrait" of the young Whitman, dressed casually—set apart from the dignified poetic establishment in America, comfortable walking among the people and speaking for them, as part of them:

                I CELEBRATE myself,
                And what I assume you shall assume,
                For every atom belonging to me as
                good belongs to you.

In his preface Whitman asserted that the “"genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people."

Whitman's long preface, the "great psalm to the republic," though often neglected, is a trumpet call for a new poetry for the fledgling nation that had not yet celebrated its fourscore years nor yet suffered the four-year rupture that brought Whitman to Washington, DC. So, like that first edition that brought forth many blossoms, the poems in this special issue are dedicated to that first flowering.

                   *   *   *

In this issue, we present the poems of 38 poets, all living and writing in the Washington Metropolitan area, stretching out to include Delaware and West Virginia, whose varied work echoes and answers Whitman's challenge to the poets who would follow him. He prodded in “"Poets to Come": “"Arouse! for you must justify me." The poems in this issue do justify and honor Whitman, in answer to Beltway's call for Whitman-inspired poems, poems in imitation, in honor, in high seriousness, and in fun.

We divided the poems into seven sections, each representing some aspect of Whitman's legacy, and their range is evidence of Whitman's still sounding echoes in today's poets and poetry, from Jean Johnson's vivid portrait of Whitman visiting the wounded soldiers in the old Patent Office building and David Bergman's depiction of Whitman first meeting Peter Doyle on a D.C. trolley during the Civil War to Daniel Pravda's image of Whitman buying coffee at a modern fast-food establishment and John Clarke's whimsical wedding feast for Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

In the last sentence of his Preface to that first edition Whitman wrote: “"The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." These poems offer that proof and our affection.

        Who knows but I am enjoying this?              
        Who knows for all the distance,
        but I am as good as looking at you now,
        for all you cannot see me?

               *   *   *  

We thank Kim Roberts, editor of Beltway for proposing and overseeing this commemorative issue to complement the Spring's upcoming events to mark the sesquicentennial publication of Whitman's first edition of Leaves of Grass. Acknowledgment is also due Martin Murray, Whitman scholar and President of the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman, for his continued dedication to Whitman's life and work, who even now is petitioning to have a street near the Portrait Gallery where Whitman worked re-named Walt Whitman Way. And, finally, thanks to Michael Degman for his insightful comments, suggestions, and plain hard work as editorial assistant for this issue.

                                                                                             Saundra Rose Maley, Guest Editor


To read some of Saundra Rose Maley's poems, click here.

To read a review of The Whitman Issue in the Washington Post, click here.
To read about "DC Celebrates Whitman: 150 Years of Leaves of Grass," the 2005 city-wide festival of which this issue was a part, click here.



Introduction by Saundra Rose Maley

I. Horehound Drops to the Boy from Iowa

Jean H. Johnson: "Walt Whitman Visits the Civil War Hospital in the Patent Office (now the National Portrait Gallery)"
Elizabeth Spires: "Grass"
Christina Daub: "To Be in New York"
Robert L. Giron: "The Pilgrimage"
Grace Cavalieri: "Lilacs"
Rosemary Winslow: "Foxes"

II. Walt pulls the PUSH door

Daniel Pravda: "Poem Written in Barbeque Sauce"
John Clarke: "Walt & Em Wed"
Linda Joy Burke: "Of Thee I Sing III—America You Deserve"
Mike Maggio: "Shoptalk"
Nan Fry: "Yoga"
Joseph Awad: "America"
Sarah Browning: "Prayer of the Ashamed American"

III. The Romance of America Demands the Story

Joanne Rocky Delaplaine: "Last Prayer"
M.A. Schaffner: "Georgetown, D.C.: The Aqueduct Bridge"
Judith McCombs: "In Praise of the Natural Flowing"
Miles David Moore: "Dead Boy in the Road at Fredericksburg"
Bonnie Naradzay: "Recrudescence"
Quique Aviles: "The Immigrant Museum"
David Bergman: "The Peter Doyle Poems"

IV. The Song is the Wind

Elizabeth Poliner: "Thinking About the Six Back Sonatas for Flute and Piano While Vacationing in Maine"
Clarinda Harriss: "Spendthrift"
Rosemary Klein: "When Sleep is About to Overtake Me"
Myra Sklarew: "Monuments"
Hilary Tham: "When Lilacs Last..."
Gerry LaFemina: "Poem Found in the Graffiti on a Freight Train's Cars"

V. Wildness Breaking In

Gibbons Ruark: "The Deer Longing"
Ann Knox: "Toad"
Ken Robidoux: "Rhythm"
Ron Goudreau: "Whitman Reading"
Patricia Gray: "Wildness Breaking In"
Richard Sharp: "Viewing the Relics"

VI. Skin All Around

David McAleavey: "Invention of the Sonnet"
Mark DeFoe: "At a Rest Stop in Iowa"
Kathleen O'Toole: "Song of the River"
Davi Walders: "My Mother's Whitman"
Linda Pastan: "To a Young Astronomer: After Reading Whitman"
Erin Murphy: "Cleaning 328 Mickle Street"


To read more by this author:
Saundra Rose Maley
Saundra Rose Maley: The Museum Issue
Saundra Rose Maley: Tenth Anniversary Issue