UB’s Poetry Collection: in memory of a poet and a rabbi

Professor Diane Christian lectures on Robert Frost’s lasting legacy

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Victor E. Reichert, a rabbi from Cincinnati, befriended Robert Frost after meeting him at one of the poet’s readings. From then on, the two became fast friends.

Over the course of their lives, Victor and Frost traded ideas about religion and literature and influenced each other’s work and personal life immensely.

Victor kept a collection of Robert Frost’s poetry, writings, letters and magazines – all received in his correspondence with Frost over the years.

After Victor’s death, Jonathan F. Reichert, a professor emeritus with the physics department at UB, donated the collection to the university and organized an annual event to honor both Frost and his father. On Wednesday, the second annual Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Event was held in UB’s Poetry Collection located in 420 Capen.

Before being made into an exhibition, Victor E. Reichert’s Robert Frost Collection was originally kept in “16 unsorted boxes,” Reichert said.

“I thought I’d go through them one day,” Reichert said, when talking about how he came to donate his father’s collection.

Reichert said Michael Basinski, curator of the UB’s Poetry Collection, helped convince him to donate Frost’s literature.

“I’m thrilled about how the collection’s being treated,” Reichert said. “[It] figures it would be used at UB.”

He said the main reason he decided to donate his father’s work is so scholars and students can study Frost’s writings and use the works to help influence their own artistry.

Basinski said he had high hopes for the event on Wednesday. He described last year’s event as both “spectacular and wonderful” and said he hoped the event would be comparable.

This year Diane Christian, a SUNY Distinguished English professor, opened the night’s festivities with a lecture about Rabbi Reichert’s translation of The Book of Job and Frost’s play A Masque of Reason.

As friends and family members of Frost and Reichert shared wine and cookies, Christian discussed the legacy of two great intellectuals.

The event held personal significance for Christian as well. Christian routinely teaches a class at UB called “Bible as Literature.”

In the early 1970s, Reichert brought his father to speak in Christian’s class. To this day, Christian still uses the lessons she learned from Reichert in her class.

“He was one of only two speakers that I’ve ever had lecture my class. I still use his translation of Job after all these years,” Christian said. “I remember him coming into my class and giving the perfect explanation of the book. He wrote it on the chalkboard and said suffering equals sin and prosperity equals purity, but the Book of Job proves this wrong.”

Diane’s lecture was centered on how Reichert’s translation and friendship influenced Frost’s work.

A Masque of Reason is a 1945 comedic play written by Robert Frost and it’s the fabricated 43rd chapter of the Book of Job, which only has 42 chapters in the Bible.

Diane, who has been reading Frost’s poetry all her life, said she appreciated the poet’s sense of humor toward religion and how he would humanize God in his writing.

The event drew widespread support from the UB community.

Lauren Maynard, a writer for Buffalo Alumni Magazine, attended the event. She said she was beyond excited to “support the Reichert family and poetry at UB.”

She heard about the event through her husband James Maynard, an associate curator with UB’s Poetry Collection.

Jill Raisen Buerk, who teaches music at Community Music School of Buffalo, said she attended because she – like so many others – heard many stories about Robert Frost from her old friend, Jonathan F. Reichert.

Reichert was able to meet Robert Frost through his father.

Though not a fan of poetry, Reichert liked to hang around Frost because “he was the type of person to make you think.”

From the “poet’s sense of humor” to “how he hated to explain his poems,” Reichert said there are many little things he learned about Robert Frost.

But Reichert said that the most important thing Frost gave to him was “the experience of being in the in the presence of a great mind.”

Alex Pennington is a staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com