1. A central theme of the Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass is the necessity for Americans to create their own literature--and the necessity of a poet who will lead and encourage others. What are other characteristics of this poet? How does Whitman imagine himself as taking that role? What in his early experience explicitly prepared him for this role? Emily Dickinson wrote no formal "Preface" to her works, but she offered Thomas Wentworth Higginson some clues about her notions of poetry in her letter to him and even mentions Whitman. Based on your readings of these works, how do Whitman and Dickinson differ on their ideas of the role of a poet?

2. Emerson noted in his letter to Whitman that he greeted Whitman "at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere." How does Whitman suggest the contours of such a foreground in the Preface to Leaves of Grass? What examples of reading, life experience, and education does Whitman suggest? What does he suggest about his background in his open letter to Emerson published at the end of the 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass?

3. In what ways does Higginson offer realistic advice to "young contributors" in his essay for the Atlantic? Do you agree with one critical commentary that this is a "hard-bitten" essay about the literary marketplace? Why or why not? How valuable do you think the advice finally was to Dickinson?

4. Dickinson indicates in her second letter to Higginson something of her "foreground." What hints does she give of her education, reading, and life experiences? What specific annotations might you make to this letter to guide other in understanding Dickinson's background?

5. Whitman had a long career as a journalist before he published Leaves of Grass in 1855. Take one or two of the periodicals listed in the timeline and find out about them. Develop a profile of the periodical you choose: Where and when it published? What was the purpose of the periodical? Can you learn anything about the circulation? Who were the contributors? What was Whitman's role in the publication?

6. What periodicals were routinely available and read in the Dickinson household? What titles does Dickinson mention in her letters to Sue and others available in the Dickinson Archive? What comments and observations does Dickinson make about published writers? What conclusions can you draw about her reading and how it influenced her development as a poet?

7. Read through the contemporary reviews of Leaves of Grass available in the Reviews section of the Walt Whitman Electronic Archive. What observations to various reviewers make about the nature of Whitman's preparation to be a poet? What assumptions do the reviewers make about a poet? About poetry? About American poetry?

8. What do Dickinson's early letters to her brother and to her friends available in the Dickinson Electronic Archive reveal about her reading, her observations about her culture, her perceptions of nature, and her travel? What opinions, assumptions, biases, and wit can you detect? In what ways do you think Dickinson is working out materials for her poetry? Several scholars have suggested that Dickinson's early letters were an integral part of her self-education. What evidence can you find to support this claim?

9. What conclusions can you draw about examining the foregrounds of Whitman and Dickinson? Based on your research, how useful is to know about the early experiences, education, and reading of these two poets? What suggestions can you make for further research and questions for others to pursue?

10. What conclusions can you draw about the relationships between Whitman and Emerson, Dickinson and Higginson? How important were these relationships to the two younger poets? What were the similarities and differences in the relationships?