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Robert Frost, The Art of Poetry No. 2

Robert Frost, The Art of Poetry No. 2



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Published by The Paris Review
Robert Frost talks about the art of poetry in this interview from the Summer/Fall 1960 issue.
Robert Frost talks about the art of poetry in this interview from the Summer/Fall 1960 issue.

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Published by: The Paris Review on Apr 04, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Mr. Frost came into the front room of his house in Cambridge,Massachusetts, casually dressed, wearing high plaid slippers,offering greetings with a quiet, even diffident friendliness. Butthere was no mistaking the evidence of the enormous power of hispersonality. It makes you at once aware of the thick, compactedstrength of his body, even now at eighty-six; it is apparent in hisface, actually too alive and spontaneously expressive to be asruggedly heroic as in his photographs.The impression of massiveness, far exceeding his physical size,isn’t separable from the public image he creates and preserves.That this image is invariably associated with popular conceptionsof New England is no simple matter of his own geographicalpreferences. New England is of course evoked in the scenes andtitles of many of his poems and, more importantly, in hisEmersonian tendencies, including his habit of contradictinghimself, his capacity to “unsay” through the sound of his voicewhat his words seem to assert. His special resemblance to NewEngland, however, is that he, like it, has managed to impose uponthe world a wholly self-created image. It is not the critics who havedefined him, it is Frost himself. He stood talking for a few minutes
in the middle of the room, his remarkably ample, tousled whitehair catching the late afternoon sun reflected off the snow in theroad outside, and one wondered for a moment how he hadmanaged over so long a life never to let his self-portrait be altereddespite countless exposures to light less familiar and unintimidating.In the public world he has resisted countless chances to losehimself in some particular fashion, some movement, like theGeorgians, or even in an area of his own work which, to certaincritics or readers, happens for the moment to appear moreexotically colorful than the whole. In one of the most revealingparts of this interview, he says of certain of his poems that he doesn’t“want them out,” the phrase itself, since all the poems involvedhave been published, offering an astonishing, even peculiar,evidence of the degree to which he feels in control of his poeticcharacter. It indicates, too, his awareness that attempts to definehim as a tragic philosophical poet of man and nature can be moreconstricting, because more painfully meaningful to him, than thesimpler definitions they are designed to correct.More specifically, he seemed at various points to find the mostimmediate threat to his freedom in the tape recorder. Naturally, fora man both voluble and often mischievous in his recollections,Frost did not like the idea of being stuck, as he necessarily wouldbe, with attitudes expressed in two hours of conversation. As anaggravation of this, he knew that no transcript taken from the tapecould catch the subtleties of voice which give life and point tomany of his statements. At a pause in the interview, Mr. RobertO’Clair, a friend and colleague at Harvard who had agreed to sitin as a sort of witness, admitted that we knew very little aboutrunning a tape recorder. Frost, who’d moved from his chair to seeits workings, readily agreed. “Yes, I noticed that,” he laughed,“and I respect you for it,” adding at once—and this is the point of the story—that “they,” presumably the people “outside,” “like tohear me say nasty things about machines.” A thoroughly suppleknowledge of the ways in which the world tries to take him and a
confidence that his own ways are more just and liberating wasapparent here and everywhere in the conversation.Frost was seated most of the time in a blue overstuffed chairwhich he had bought to write in. It had no arms, he began, and thisleft him the room he needed.
Richard Poirier,1960
I never write except with a writing board. I’ve never had atable in my life. And I use all sorts of things. Write on the sole of my shoe.
Why have you never liked a desk? Is it because you’ve movedaround so much and lived in so many places?
Even when I was younger I never had a desk. I’ve never had awriting room.
Is Cambridge your home base now pretty much?
In the winter. But I’m nearly five months in Ripton, Vermont.I make a long summer up there. But this is my office and businessplace.
Your place in Vermont is near the Bread Loaf School of Writing, isn’t it?

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No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. True. Thanks Robert.
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