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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

If you follow this blog –and you should– then you know that Amherst College 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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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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Poet James I. Merrill (AC 1947) was a frequent doodler. The margins of his manuscripts are often crowded with small faces that encroach upon the text. Doodling even showed up in his published work: his poetry collection, The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace, includes a poem about doodling. Appropriately, Merrill doodled on a manuscript copy of the poem. Merrill’s second published novel, The (Diblos) Notebook, is the story of a novelist who doodles and finds other ways to procrastinate instead of working on his novel.

At the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, we hold the manuscript for Merrill’s first novel, The Seraglio, which is brimming with doodles. Some, like those below, are faces or other drawings.

Detail of a doodle from The Seraglio, Box III

Detail of a doodle from The Seraglio, Box III, Merrill-Magowan Family Papers, Amherst Archives & Special Collections

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T. S. Eliot. “The Waste Land.” 1922.

Our holdings of books and manuscripts by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Richard Wilbur are well known to most poetry aficionados, but the poetry collections at Amherst College extend well beyond these three greats. In the past year I worked with two undergraduate courses that prompted me to dig deeper into other areas of our poetry holdings.

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