Every Atom | No. 91

Maire Mullins

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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It is astonishing the way Whitman can reach in and grab the reader in just a few lines.  Leaves of Grass meets readers where they are, calling them into a new relationship with language, with nature, and with the printed word, yet also challenges the reader to go beyond what is given.  This is not a reciprocal relationship; it is not about give and take.   

Like a masterful teacher, in his poetry Whitman seeks you out and promises more than what is on the page if you will bring more to the reading of the poem.  As much as Whitman celebrates loafing, you can’t be a lazy reader when it comes to Leaves of Grass.  There is simply too much to miss. And you need to do this on your own, of your own volition, hoping perhaps someday to reach the moment when you become the filter.  

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Maire Mullins is Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Humanities and Teacher Education at Pepperdine University. A Fulbright Scholar to Japan, Professor Mullins taught Whitman’s poetry at Tokyo Christian Women’s University and Tokyo Gakugei University. Her essays on Walt Whitman have appeared in Walt Whitman in Context (Oxford, 2018), Walt Whitman: A Companion (Blackwell, 2006), Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, The Walt Whitman Encyclopedia (Garland P, 1998), The Tohoku Journal of American Studies (Sendai, Japan), and The American Transcendental Quarterly.

Professor Mullins also recently edited a digital edition of Hannah Whitman Heyde’s Selected Letters Hannah, Whitman’s youngest and most beloved sibling, was emotionally, physically, and verbally abused by her husband, Charles Heyde, the celebrated Vermont landscape painter. Whitman and his family knew of the abuse.


Cover art by Samantha Schmiesing