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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

If you follow this blog –and you should– then you know that Amherst has a lot of collections from missionary families.  Because I work with these collections a lot, especially in arranging and describing new ones, I’ve settled into a comfortable theory about how the work of missionaries changed over the decades and generations.  I notice a first generation of “strict missionaries” whose goal is first and foremost to spread the gospel.  Their children, often born and raised abroad, speak two or three languages, and they know their parents’ work and where it succeeded and where it failed.  They’re still usually missionaries working for the American Board, but their work often branches into teaching at primary and middle-school levels, or working in a medical clinic.  A third generation is even more removed from the original mission work and its members become professors or doctors. Fourth and fifth generations might see some diplomats, government professionals, and journalists.  The shift feels linear.  But I always knew this way of thinking was a broad generalization, and too comfortable.  I knew there would be someone to rock the boat, to mess with my theory — to zig where so many seemed to zag.

Mary Averett Seelye, ca. 1965

Mary-Averett Seelye, ca. 1965

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H.H. Statham -- New Year-- 1914A hundred years ago Henry Heathcote Statham (1839-1924) and his wife, Florence Dicken Statham (1856-1938), sent this New Year’s card to their friends and family. The Dicken-Statham Family Papers have recently come to us, and so we share their New Year’s greeting with our readers.

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Signed photographic portrait of Vachel Lindsay, from the Lawrence H. Conrad Vachel Lindsay and Robert Frost Collection.

Signed photographic portrait of Vachel Lindsay, from the Lawrence H. Conrad Vachel Lindsay and Robert Frost Collection.

Amherst College recently received the donation of a small, fascinating collection of correspondence and other materials related to Robert Frost and the now lesser-known poet (Nicholas) Vachel Lindsay. Vachel Lindsay styled himself as a twentieth-century troubadour. He traveled around the Midwest performing his poetry, which he chanted or sang, sometimes in costume. Few recordings of Lindsay exist, but there are several short clips online at the PennSound project. Lindsay originally trained as a visual artist, and often sold or traded illustrated pamphlets of his poetry in exchange for food and lodging.

This collection of material belonged to Lawrence H. Conrad, and was donated to Amherst by Conrad’s granddaughter, Angela Conrad. Lawrence Conrad was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, when Robert Frost held the position of poet-in-residence at the University. During the same time period, Lindsay gave a reading at the University. Conrad served as an assistant to the poets and helped with their arrangements while in Michigan. In a May 9, 1928 letter from Conrad to Lindsay, he writes, “You probably remember that I was a sort of pet of Robert Frost when he was here [at the University of Michigan].” Conrad later became president of the Michigan Author’s Association and arranged further Michigan appearances for Frost and Lindsay. Conrad corresponded with both men and appears to have become a personal friend of both, who were also friends with each other. He continued corresponding with Lindsay’s widow, Elizabeth Connor Lindsay after Vachel Lindsay committed suicide in 1931.

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The Frost Tapes

We are delighted that A. M. Dolan’s play This Verse Business — a one-man play about Robert Frost — will be performed in Amherst’s Kirby Theater at 8:00 on Thursday and Friday this week. Dolan conducted much of his research for the play in the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College and made extensive use of our holdings of audio and video recordings of Robert Frost. At 4:00 PM on Thursday, November 28, I will be on a panel discussion “Robert Frost: From Page to Platform” with playwright A. M. Dolan and actor Gordon Clapp who plays the part of Robert Frost. In preparing for this event, I spent a little time looking into our audio-visual holdings in the Frost Collection.

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A poet’s hope: to be,

like some valley cheese,

local, but prized elsewhere.

— James Hayford

A day trip to Vermont recently got me thinking about the poet James Hayford, Amherst Class of 1935. Hayford was that other Vermont poet, the one you’ve probably never heard of.  At Amherst — indeed, throughout his entire life — Hayford was an admitted “disciple” of the more famous New England bard, Robert Frost. 

It is odd that Hayford, a Vermont boy with literary aspirations, had never even heard of Robert Frost until the fall of his sophomore year, when his parents gave him  a copy of Collected Poems (1930) for his birthday. Hayford tells of how first reading Frost was a thrilling revelation: “In Frost’s book I found myself.  This was my country; these were my people, my ways of thinking and feeling, my tones of voice.” (Preface to Star in the Shed Window:  Collected Poems, xi.)  Hayford had found his touchstone.

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One of my absolute favorite books about the history of printing, publishing, selling, and reading books is The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period by William St. Clair (Cambridge, 2004). St. Clair spends a lot of time exploring the ways that copyright law determines what books are available and how they are priced and sold. For instance, during what he calles the “brief copyright window, 1774-1808” hundreds of texts were suddenly in the public domain for the first time. In 1774 the House of Lords declared that perpetual copyright was illegal and that the fourteen year limit established in 1710 was the law of the land.

What this meant in practical terms is that anyone with a press could now print up their own editions of Chaucer, Milton, Swift, Dryden, Spencer, and others. If everyone could print the same texts, one way to differentiate your product from the inferior output of your competition was through editorial apparatus — introductions, author portraits, and notes. Thomas F. Bonnell’s book, The Most Disreputable Trade: Publishing the Classics of English Poetry, 1765-1810 (Oxford, 2008) examines the efforts of several publishers competing for the expanding British reading public. This week I just want to call attention to one item in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections that was sold by one of the more enterprising publishers of public domain material.

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The Disowned Poet

Let me be clear: most of what I learned about Walt Whitman (1819-1892) in school is long since forgotten.  I know even less about naturalist and writer John Burroughs (1837-1921).  Here, now thoroughly advertised, are two of the many regrettable lacunae in my education so far.

However, this week’s blog topic provided a unique entry point for learning a bit about both writers, as well as (teachers take note) a rewarding archival experience, since even this brief blog post required a look across multiple collections, files, books, and online information.  The item in question is a hitherto uncatalogued manuscript in our collection by John Burroughs, with emendations by Walt Whitman.  The manuscript, “Flight of the Eagle,” is the last essay in Burroughs’ book Birds and Poets (1877), which also concerns worthies such as Tennyson, Emerson, Thoreau, Wordsworth, et al.

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