"A legacy of genius, fame ? and controversy "

UB professors react with enthusiasm to pending release of Robert Frost letters

The Spectrum

Robert Frost's name has long conjured the instant evocation of snowy woods and roads less traveled.

At UB, with the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection touting audio recordings, photographs and an original handwritten draft, the poet's image deepens beyond the words of his works. The Special Collections library in Capen Hall holds the artifacts.

Harvard University Press has added another layer to Frost's multifaceted biography with the release of a collection of Frost's selected letters.

"I think it's wonderful news," said popular English professor Robert Daly in an email.

Daly, who will give the inaugural Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost lecture later this spring, noted, "[The collection is] splendidly done and gives us a better view of how complex and learned Frost was."

The book, which is a staggering 848 pages, is the first of a multi-volume collection that provides readers with an in-depth exploration of Frost's personal life and daily experiences.

This collection is sure to complicate the already divisive conversations that have swirled around academic circles since Frost's death in 1963. A literary giant in the world of American literature whose poetry was beloved by the public during his lifetime, Frost became immersed in controversy in later years.

A slew of unflattering biographies led to his characterization as a "monster of egotism" and a "mean-spirited megalomaniac."

Nonetheless, Frost's presence remains a hallmark of classrooms nationwide as students explore his poetry. Rebecca Wasmer, a junior computer engineering major, has fond memories of her experience reading Frost as a high school student.

"He was a lot more interesting than the other [authors] we read," Wasmer said. "I always liked his style."

Wasmer remains a Frost fan today, though she recalls her high school English teacher's comments about the author: that while she loved Frost's work, he was "a terrible person."

Today, the accusations live on. Most recently, Joyce Carol Oates, in a short story reflecting upon interviewing the poet in 1951, painted another unflattering portrait of Frost, portraying the writer as arrogant, racist and rude. The story, published in Harper's Magazine last November, once again raised questions over Frost's life and legacy.

James Maynard, associate curator of The Poetry Collection at UB, said this new collection might help answer some of these questions and provide insight into Frost's motivations.

"A published volume of letters can do much in terms of documenting a given poet's community and intellectual milieu," Maynard said. "In other words, an explicit, historical sense of whom he or she was writing for and with, which again goes back to amplifying or extending the poetry itself."

Stacy Hubbard, an associate professor of English, expressed a similar sentiment.

"I would hope the new volume of letters would encourage people to reread the poetry with fresh eyes and a heightened sense of the complexities and contradictions of the man and the poems," Hubbard said. "Like most important poets, Frost was never just one thing."

The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886-1920, edited by Robert Faggen, Mark Richardson and Donald Sheehy, is available in bookstores now.

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