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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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RFB1941-cover

 

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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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