Jay Parini
Jay Parini
Robert Frost: A Life
ISBN: 0805031812
Robert Frost: A Life
Robert Frost, the farmer-poet of New England, actually spent his formative early years in San Francisco. His mother moved the family east after the death of her husband—a hard-living journalist from whom Robert took his willful perversity. He attended Dartmouth and Harvard, leaving both prematurely, and after putative stabs at teaching and journalism became a poultry farmer in New Hampshire. It took a trip to England in 1912 (to live "under thatch") for his poetry finally to be published, and when he returned to America in 1915 his reputation had preceded him. Until his death in 1963, he worked assiduously at consolidating his position as America's premier voice; reading at Kennedy's inauguration and meeting Khrushchev were just two of the scenes he stole. So why does Jay Parini need to reclaim him?

The answer lies with Lawrance Thompson. Thompson was one of Frost's most earnest disciples, and for years the poet, ever eager to shape his own image, allowed him a Boswellian intimacy. Unfortunately, Thompson came to despise his former mentor, and his exhaustively documented volumes portray Frost as a kind of solipsistic monster, in marked contrast to the awe with which he had previously been described. Parini, also a biographer of John Steinbeck, in a wave of perspective seeks a corrective to Thompson's bile. His writing is intelligent yet breathlessly generous, and he is at his best when considering the poems themselves. He rightly ascribes to Frost the innovation of the colloquial voice in serious verse—a legacy that appears immense today when so much contemporary poetry consists of little else. Frost's mastery lay in the freedom he found within which contribute to a melancholic spirituality beyond the rusticity for which he is popularly celebrated. While Thompson's egg is cracked and dry, Parini prefers a softer boil, and his elegantly reverential tone is imbued with a perception that reminds readers how great a poet Frost remains. The clergyman who advised him at an early age that his verse was "too close to speech," and thus gave him his voice, deserves eternal gratitude. —David Vincent, Amazon.co.uk

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TRANSCRIPT
Robert Frost: A Life
Program Air Date: September 12, 1999

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jay Parini, author of "Robert Fo--Frost: A Life," wh--how much had been written about him in biography form before you started?
PROFESSOR JAY PARINI, AUTHOR, "ROBERT FROST: A LIFE:" Well, before I started--I started on this book a long time ago, almost 25 years ago to date when I actually got the idea and--and started doing some research. But there's been a lot written about Robert Frost. You know, there's a massive three-volume biography by Lawrance Thompson, and there are countless other lives of Frost--I mean, three or four major ones before Thompson set about writing a three-volume life of Frost back in the late '50s and '60s. So it's not as though Frost hasn't been done before. The question comes, of course: Why would I bother, given the fact that so much is written about him?
LAMB: What is the story about Lorris Thomp--Lawrance Thompson?
PROF. PARINI: Well, the basic gist of Frost's biography is that Robert Frost attracted biographers from the beginning. But the first biographers simply wanted to say what a great old fellow Robert Frost was and, essentially, romanticize him. So the early biographies were essentially puff pieces, magazine pieces blown up into books.

Lawrance Thompson was picked by Frost as the official biographer in 1942 because he had run into Larry, as he was called, and they became friends. Thompson then s--lived at Frost's side until Frost's death in 1963. So late '40s, '50s and right up till Frost's death, Lawrance Thompson was a--a presence in Frost's life and he, in fact, had an involvement with--with Kay Thompson, who was Frost's secretary.
LAMB: Let's look at this. We got a picture here I want to show. Which pictu--which one is Lawrance Thompson?
PROF. PARINI: Well, Lawrance Thompson is--is on--looking on the screen I guess, the left. And that--that would be Lawrance Thompson, Frost in the middle. He's sitting at Frost's right elbow.
LAMB: You suggest in th--in the--in your book, though, that he wasn't--he didn't--he hated him, didn't like him.
PROF. PARINI: Yeah. Well, he came to despise him in this curious way. I think he thought that Thompson was fawning and--and prying, and he also didn't like Frost's attention--or Lawrance Thompson's attention to his beloved secretary, Kay Thompson. So all sorts of personal issues intervened. And by the end of his life, Frost said to several of his friends, `Please save me from Larry. This is going to be a damning biography.'

But Frost let it ride, died giving full permission to Lawrance Thompson to do this, essentially what amounts to a character assassination, which isn't to say it's not a very solidly researched book. It doesn't have an amazing amount of stuff. In fact, what I found more valuable than the--the actual biography of Lawrance Thompson was the 2,000 pages of notes Thompson took through his 20 years of working with Frost. This is an incredible mine of fact and detail.

These are in the University of Virginia Library. So I--I read through those and--and s--took--took what I wanted there. Often I found the stories in the--in his notes very much at odds with what he finally wrote in the biography. I mean, f--Thompson's biography, I guess like all biographies in some level, is a work of fiction. It's a shaped syste--series of facts with--with a particular spin on it. There's no biography which is objective, but Thompson's is particularly unobjective.
LAMB: You said Kay Thompson. You meant Kay Morrison?
PROF. PARINI: Kay--Kay Morrison, sorry.
LAMB: Because there's a picture of her here...
PROF. PARINI: Yes.
LAMB: ...and she comes up in the book quite a bit. Who was she?
PROF. PARINI: Well, Kay was a young, beautiful woman whom Frost met first in the th--in the '20s when she was a student at Bryn Mawr. He re-encountered her--her after the death of his--of his wife, Elinor, in 1938. And she essentially became Frost's--first his lover, then his secretary and h--finally his press agent and keeper of the flame. So she acted in many roles for Robert Frost. But she b--the last years of Frost's life, from 1938 until his death in '63, Kay was never more than elbow's length from Robert Frost, as far as I could tell. So was her husband, Ted Morrison. He was on the other elbow. It was--it was not--not sexually, but it was a kind of menage a trois and very strange relationship in some ways. But essentially, the Morrisons buoyed up Robert Frost, kept him going afloat through some very difficult years and finally made it possible for him to play the role of American bard in the '50s and early '60s.
LAMB: How many Pulitzer Prizes did he win?
PROF. PARINI: Four, which is a record--four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, beginning in 1923 with "New Hampshire" right on through "West Running Brook," and so forth, right up through "A Witness Tree." He won Pulitzer Prizes for almost all of his major books after "New Hampshire." Quite a record.
LAMB: What's so special about his poems?
PROF. PARINI: Abou--about his poetry?
LAMB: Mm-hmm.
PROF. PARINI: What makes Frost's poetry special? The sound of it. I mean, Robert Frost understood that working within metrical form--you've got a meter, ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum. That's the abstract meter. Then you play voice across that, the natural sound of the speaking voice. And Frost understood that poetry was essentially the difference between that abstract form--form, the--the five fence posts sticking up, and the way you lay the silk blanket of voice over it, the sound. He says in one of his essays that the sound is the gold and the ore and so you can hear that beat of the--of the meter.

`Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that sends the grozen--frozen groundswell under it and spills the open boulders in the sun.' But think of how--if you'd s--read it very abstractly, `Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that spills the upper boulders in the sun,' it would sound crazy. Frost understood that that's the basis of poetry. But then you would lay that lovely blanket of sound over it. You find the ore in the gold--the gold in the ore and you have the natural cadence of the speaking voice, `Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that sends the grozen--frozen groundswell under it and spills the boulders in the upper sun,' and so forth. Beautiful stuff.

Poem after poem, Frost was able to keep the rigidity of the meter, but nevertheless make the language flow memorably and concretely and beautifully. So he could write, you know, `Whose woods'--the four beats, `Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village, though he will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near, between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.'

The way that fa--it's just astonishing. `He gives his harness bell a shake to ask if there is some mistake, between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.' Amazing how he does that. Or the other line that I love, `The only other sound's the sweep of easy wind and downy flake,' and then the great ending, `The woods are lovely, dark and deep'--you can't not memorize that. You hear it once, it's there forever. It's language made permanent. It says--Ezra Pound said, `Poetry is news. It stays news.' And this is always news. `The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.'

You know, that has permanently lodged itself in the imagination of anyone who cares deeply about language. Once you've heard it, it transforms your life because it's language like a deep spring that you can go back to again and again for refreshment. You know, I've read these poems of Frost over 30 years, thousands and thousands of times. And it's never that I don't open these--this book with a thrill a--and read those poems again and it makes my skin prickle. And I feel--there's a sense of recognition there. You know, this is--this is news that stays news.
LAMB: You mentioned Ezra Pound, and as you know, that was a very political thing in Robert Frost's life. He was out here at St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital...
PROF. PARINI: Right.
LAMB: ...same place where Mr. Hinckley is, same place where Dr. Minor was years ago--we did "The Professor and the Madman." But go to that point, because all kinds of names that people will recognize were involved in Robert Frost trying to get Ezra Pound out of that mental hospital.
PROF. PARINI: Well, if you think about it for a moment, it's very strange. Frost was actually a very unpolitical man. I won't even say apolitical. He was actively against politics in some ways. But when Ezra Pound was put in the St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital and accused of tre--he was not accused, he was convicted of treason. I mean, Ezra Pound had been a fascist, he'd been a friend and a s--i--not a friend of, but he'd been an acolyte in the way of Mussolini. He'd been in Italy making broadcasts against the Americans and British and Allied forces. So Ezra Pound was a pretty crazy fellow and a traitor. And Robert Frost was one of many writers--Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell--involved in trying to spring `Old Ez,' as they called him, from the prison.

But Frost was the man--was the point man because Frost knew Eisenhower. He knew the people in the admi--Eisenhower administration. And it would take somebody with real ties to the White House, like Frost, who was admired by Eisenhower and Dulles and all the people surrounding Sherman Adams, the people surrounding Eisenhower had great respect for Frost. And so it took--was--it took Frost to spring Ezra Pound from St. Elizabeth's.
LAMB: Sherman Adams was the chief of staff to President Eisenhower, but what was the connection there?
PROF. PARINI: Sherman Adams was simply an admirer s--of Frost, loved his poetry and had met him up in New England, up in New Hampshire. Sherman Adams had been governor of New Hampshire, and so he knew Frost from New Hampshire days.
LAMB: But on the page and--or the two pages when you're talking about Ezra Pound--but first of all, who is he?
PROF. PARINI: Ezra Pound was one of the founding poets and thinkers of am--of modernism. He was a poet--American poet who moved to London in the early part of the century, befriended T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. And he really supported and buoyed up and systematized the--the aesthetics of this modernist movement in poetry. So he was the--sort of the ringmaster of modernism in literature. And he bef--he was very kind to Robert Frost.

When Robert Frost, totally unknown, aged 36 or 7 or 38, sailed with no books published, no money in his pocket, with a young family and nothing but a--the s--the hope of a song in his pocket, really, to London. And he met Ezra Pound at a party, and Ezra Pound took up Frost, promoted him, helped him get his book published, reviewed his first books of poetry, not once but three times. And so Frost felt forever an indebtedness to the great help he had gotten from Ezra Pound.
LAMB: On this page you have--where you start to talk about f--Mr. Frost's attempt to get him out of St. Elizabeth, you say Frost signed a letter, joining Macleish in Washington on June 19th, 1957, for a meeting at the office of Deputy Attorney General William P. Rogers, who went on to be secretary of State.
PROF. PARINI: Bill Rogers, right.
LAMB: Who was Macleish?
PROF. PARINI: Archibald Macleish, an--was another young poet/playwright whom Pound had helped in Paris in the 1920s. Archibald Macleish went--was a lawyer and went on to become a minor figure in the Roosevelt administration. He was a leading Democrat. But he was one of the few political people I can think of who really moved easily in the worlds of literature and politics. And Macleish was an old friend and--and sometimes enemy of Robert Frost.
LAMB: You mention in the book that he didn't like him--that Robert Frost didn't like Macleish.
PROF. PARINI: Didn't like him. He thought that Macleish was a third-rate poet, and he didn't like his liberalism. Frost always hated liberals. So he saw--he saw Macleish as a New Deal liberal. And remember, one of Frost's--if he had any politics at all, it was a kind of--of fierce inde--independence, individualism. He was kind of libertarian in a way. I mean, one of his best poems, I think, is called "Provide, Provide," and it ends, `Better to go down dignified with boughten friendship at your side than none at all. Provide. Provide.' And whenever he read that poem, he would end--say to the audience, `And if you don't provide for yourself, somebody else is going to provide for you, and you might not like it.' So he was anti-New Deal and s--and identified Macleish with that group of urban liberals whom he rather despised.
LAMB: On the subject of Ezra Pound, there's T.S. Eliot on the page.
PROF. PARINI: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And how old was he then, and--and what was his relationship to him?
PROF. PARINI: Eliot was one of--Eliot, really, owed much of his early success to Ezra Pound's editing of his po--famous poem, "The Wasteland." T.S. Eliot gave this unwieldy manuscript to Ezra, which he had written while ha--recovering from a nervous breakdown in Switzerland--to Ezra Pound ,and Pound red-penciled it. You know, changed words around, crossed out vast stretches, forged links, and so Eliot always felt that he'd--he owed, as Frost felt this to some degree, a great deal of his success as a poet to Pound's encouragement and editing and friendship.
LAMB: You quote Ezra Pound as saying--after Robert Frost got him out of St. Elizabeth, as saying, "He ain't been in much of a hurry." And then you say, `When he boarded a liner for Genoa, in New York, he reportedly gave the fascist salute.'
PROF. PARINI: Well, that's--I'm not sure--that's a bit--might be apocryphal, but what's always said in f--in--in biographies of Ezra Pound is that as the boat was peeling out of the harbor, put up his hand in Nazi salute. I mean, Ezra Pound was c--was crazy. He was completely crazy. I mean, if you read his--even his late poems, "The Cantos" are, you know, a testament to his madness.
LAMB: You say, though, that--that Robert Frost didn't like T.S. Eliot.
PROF. PARINI: Robert Frost didn't like T.S. Eliot, thought he was full of humbug; didn't like the way he wore his learning on his shirt-sleeves. He thought that "The Wasteland" was tremendously pretentious. "The Wasteland," let me say, I think is a great original poem, but it's composed a--lots of lines in "The Wasteland" are quotations from great works of literature and music. You know, he quotes an opera by Wagner. He quotes pieces of "The Upanishads," great religious literature of India. He quotes bits and pieces of French poets, Rimbaud, Verlaine. He quotes oddments from all over world literature. In fact, he says at one point in "The Wasteland," Eliot, `These are the fragments shorn against my ruins.' I mean, this is the collection of t--lines that were rattling around in his brain, which he was rummaging through these fragments trying to sustain himself in the broken world of the 20th century, the wasteland that the modern world had become. So "The Wasteland" is a great poem.

But F--but Frost was coming from a completely different aesthetic. He had a different view of poetry, considered "The Wasteland" and Eliot's other poetry obscure for no reason, pretentious, wearing its learning on its shirt-sleeves. Remember, Frost was, himself, a very learned man. He just wore his learning very, very lightly. He was trained in Latin. He read "The Aeneid," Catullus, the great Latin poets in the original, right to the end of his life.
LAMB: You say he died in 1963, the same year that Jack Kennedy was shot.
PROF. PARINI: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Was it before or after?
PROF. PARINI: He died before Kennedy was shot.
LAMB: What was his relationship to President Kennedy?
PROF. PARINI: Well, it's interesting. I mean, how many artists would go from being in favor with the Republicans to being--he was really the court poet of the Eisenhower--hower administration. In comes the Kennedy administration and the first thing they do is choose Robert Frost to read at the inauguration. And he becomes, essentially, the court poet of the Kennedy administration.
LAMB: This little bit of tape we've got--we don't actually have the reading, and it shows that Robert Frost is introduced at the inauguration, comes up and reads his poem there and he had some problems reading it, I understand, according to your book. What was it? What were they?
PROF. PARINI: Well, to go back a little bit--b--bit to the actual story, I--it was Udall, the secretary of the Interior, who too--elect--there's Frost. Shall I keep ta--tell you about this? Well, Frost was invi--was--it was actually Udall, secretary of the Interior, who suggested--who was a friend of Frost and suggested to Kennedy that Frost read at the inauguration. Kennedy's first response in a--in a memo back to Udall was, `What? That old scene-stealer? They'll forget that I'm--just been elected president and that's all they'll talk about in the papers the next day,' which was true, in fact.

Big headline in The Washington Post next day said: O--Old Poet Steals Heart of America. And that's something Kennedy wanted to do. And, Kennedy, of course, finally ac--assented, and Frost came out to read a poem, and he got up on stage. It's blustery and cold. I was a little c--I was--you know, 12 years old myself or something...
LAMB: But very cold there...
PROF. PARINI: ...at that age, bitterly cold day. Frost, no hat on. He was, you know, well into his 80s, almost 90. And he suddenly pulls up his sheet and he can't read because the sun is glaring on the paper. And Lyndon Johnsn, the vice president-elect, comes over and shields the paper with his top hat and Robert Frost says, `Oh, I can't read it. The sun's--and glare, can't do it.' Then there's this amazing moment when Frost very dram--melodramatically crumples the paper and sort of looks up into the sun and sa--and--and--and begins to recite from memory, you know, as--as though he hadn't recited the poem he was reciting a thousand times before from memory.
LAMB: Did he do something special in that poem for that inauguration?
PROF. PARINI: H--he changed the last line around just a little bit, but s--you know, `The land was ours before we were the land's.' And he--you know, he looks up as though he's trying to struggle to retrieve from memory these lines. You know, I love the way he goes, `The land was ours before we were the land's.' He was--he was the great bard, you--mean. I--I've--I--for 20 years now, I've listened to tapes of Robert Frost reading his poetry as I've jogged. And you could never tire of hearing him mouth these words over and--he--he gets it, you know. He really is the voice of American poetry.
LAMB: Where do you live?
PROF. PARINI: Oh, I live up in w--I live up in rural Vermont on a--on a--in an old farmhouse built in 1850 and not very far from Robert Frost's farmhouse up in Ripton, Vermont. In fact, I sometimes--two weeks every summer I stay up in Frost's farmhouse in Ripton. So I--my whole life, I've--I've, in a sense, lived in Frost country. My first job was teaching at Dartmouth, where Frost had been a student, and taught there in 1975 and into the early '80s. And I lived in Frost's footsteps there. That's when I became obsessed with Frost.

I would--my first summer, as a 25-year-old assistant professor, I had nothing to do to speak of and I went into the rare books room at Dartmouth College Library and was shown the--box load after box load containing the Frost Papers. And I began pawing my way through his letters and notebooks and journals and rough drafts and became fascinated with this man's life and work.

And then I moved in the early '80s to Middlebury College, where Frost spent the last decades of his life himself living up in Ripton, which is just outside of Middlebury. Frost was one of the founders of Middlebury's writer's conference, called the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. So I've had--in a sense, my entire adult life, from the age of 25--I'm 51 now--I've been living in Frost's shadow. And...
LAMB: Where is this photograph?
PROF. PARINI: That's--that's Ripton. That's--that's--that's right up in Ripton, Vermont, where there's a beautiful cabin in the woods where Frost wrote and a farmhouse called the Homer Noble Farm. If any of your viewers are ever in--in Vermont, they should make a trip up to Ripton and see the Frost house. It's run as a Frost Museum by Middlebury College.
LAMB: What about the home in Derry, New Hampshire? Is that also set aside?
PROF. PARINI: That's set aside, too. Almost all of Frost's farmhouses have been set aside and restored as f--as places. The--you know, Derry is interesting. Robert Frost, at the age of 25, was a complete failure, had dropped out--he spent five or six weeks at Dartmouth and bombed out. Then he went to Harvard and bombed out. He was a young married man, bunch of kids, 25 years old, and he had no prospects.

And his grandfather set him up with a farmhouse in Derry, New Hampshire, and it was in Derry--it was--there was a decade in Derry when Frost wrote I would s--I'd say 50 percent to 60 percent of his greatest poetry was written in those early years when he was completely unknown in Derry, New Hampshire. And that's when he wrote the great poems of "A Boy's Will," and--and the po--and "North of Boston." Many of the poems we remem--we remember were written then.

And he lived the life of a--a subsistence farmer and supported his farming with a little bit of teaching at the Pinkerton Academy and then later at a normal school, which was a kind of school for teachers in New Hampshire. And by the time he was 38, you know, he had nothing published. He had no money. He had four kids, quickly growing, eating a lot of food. He had a wife, Elinor, who was very devoted, but often ill. He was, himself, often ill. And he sold the farm and took off for England. And it was at--in--in England in 1913, '14, and early of 1915 that he disc--really pulled his books together, his first two books, got them published first in England and was essentially discovered.

By the time Robert Frost got back to American shores in 1915, one of the first thing he did was he came off the boat in New--in New York, walked up to a newsstand and saw The New Republic. Couldn't believe what he saw on the cover of The New Republic--a headline. Amy Lowell, who was a famous poet wrote: Great New American Poet, Robert Frost. She had discovered his first two little volumes published in England. And so Frost, from that point on, was a famous person, essentially. In poetry circles, if there is such a thing as a famous poet--it's almost, like, contradiction in terms--but Frost was certainly the most celebrated American poet from 1915 till his death in 1963.
LAMB: How old was he when he died?
PROF. PARINI: Eighty-nine and vigorous to the end, you know. It was only a few months before his death in 1963 that John Kennedy sent him t--as an am--goodwill ambassador to Russia, and he had a incredibly powerful head-on conversation with Nikita Khrushchev, which I report on in great detail in my book here.
LAMB: I just want to read you a number of things that you wrote.
PROF. PARINI: Hmm.
LAMB: `He was a Democrat who hated FDR. He was a poet of labor who didn't support the New Deal. He believed in war but was against World War II. He supported Ike and also supported JFK. And he was an anti-Communist who embraced Nikita Khrushchev.'
PROF. PARINI: I mean, this is a--a man of total contradiction. I mean, he just--I think he reveled in contradiction. He liked to have everything--he--well, the--the famous cliche is to `Have his cake and eat it too.' And if any man ever did want to have everything always at once, it was Robert Frost. He wanted to be the poet of the people and the totally independent bard.
LAMB: What is this picture?
PROF. PARINI: The bottom picture is in southern Russia and that's Frost. He'd--he'd taken ill in his last days in Russia. And he was desperately eager to meet Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev was not too far away. He was on a summer holiday, and so he came over and visited Frost in his hospital bed and--so that's Frost and Nikita Khrushchev, and the translator i--i--is facing Robert Frost.
LAMB: How did he get to Russia?
PROF. PARINI: Oh, Frost flew.
LAMB: I mean, what was the reason?
PROF. PARINI: Oh, well, he went to Russia because he suddenly got a letter from the State Department saying we--you--`You were so successful as a goodwill ambassador to Brazil'--he'd gone to a big conference in Brazil where he represented the US government, a cultural ambassador. They said, `Well, why not go to Russia? We're at the height of the Cold War now, and we think that it might break the ice.' They love poets in Russia. And, in fact, they loved Robert Frost in Russia.

The day Robert Frost arrived there was a huge front-page article in Pravda, where they said, `Robert Frost is,' I mean, `a true poet of the people. He is a farmer. He's a real working man.' And they said he's--and, you know--and it's true. When you think about it, F--Frost's greatest poems are about working people and they're about simple people and they're about working. Most of his great poems involve, you know, chopping up wood like in "Two Tramps in Mud Time," or one of his great poems is "Mowing," about mowing the grass, or "Putting in the Seed," or my favorite among all Frost poems might be "After Apple-Picking." But Frost had done all these things. You know, to the end of his life he kept a farm, even up in--in the last years in Ripton, Vermont. He always had a stand of apple trees and a big garden. But he f--he was a farmer much of his adult life.
LAMB: How many places are there that have been set aside like Derry, New Hampshire, and Ripton, Vermont?
PROF. PARINI: Well, there's Derry, New Hampshire. There's Franconia, Vermont, and--and the Frost house in--in--in Ripton, Vermont. So really three Frost houses. You--sometimes you could count the house in South Shaftsbury, in southern Vermont. And he lived there in the--in the mid-'20s to--till Elinor's death in 1938. I'm not sure. That's not really set aside as a Frost house.
LAMB: Have you been to all these places?
PROF. PARINI: I've--oh, sure, I've--I've been to all the Frost houses and spent nights in them and even lived in some of them.
LAMB: What do you get out of doing that?
PROF. PARINI: I think that when you go to a--a poet's house and--and--and sit in the chairs they sat in, look out the windows, walk around the property that they walked, I think that you are able to absorb the aura of the writer.
LAMB: What did you find in each of those places? Which is your favorite by the way?
PROF. PARINI: Oh, m--my--my favorite, only because I've--because I live near there now and spend two weeks there every summer, is the house in Ripton, Vermont. But, you know, when you sit in the Frost cabin there i--where he wrote, you really feel that Frost is in the next room and is about to walk in. I once played a trick on my students. I teach a Frost seminar at Middlebury every fall. A--and--and recently I was teaching Frost up there in--and I said, `Now we're going to have this cla--final class in the Frost cabin.'

Took the class up there late one afternoon, and I'd gone up there the morning before and planted a boom box with a tape of Frost reading behind the sofa. And we sat in the living room and I started talking about Frost. And when--I could keep going about Frost and I can go on for hours. And I probably talked for two or three hours about Frost's poetry for non-stop as the dusk settled. And I purposefully did not turn a light on.

Finally, it was--was pitch-black in there and the students thought, `Jay Parini is going crazy. I can tell.' And I left it--seemed like I was getting madder and madder, and finally I said, `You know, sometimes this time of night when you sit here in Frost's cabin, you can really hear him speaking. I mean, his presence is absolutely vivid in the room.' And I pressed the little remote in my pocket, and suddenly you heard `Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth, then took the other as just as fair.' The class just panicked. It was wonderful. My best teaching moment.

But to--to hear Frost recite those poems, I recommend that anyone, especially a poem like . Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood, the contradiction that's in that poem, I--I think embody the contradictions in Robert Frost, looks so simple on the surface. You think you've got it. My first encounter with Robert Frost was with a--a lovely t--teacher in--in--in--in high school in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who had framed up above her desk, `Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both,' and she--no, she had the last two lines. `I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.' And she said to the class, `Class, let's say those lines aloud together.' And the class all said, `I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.' And she said, `Now I want you to heed that advice. Go your own way. Be your own man. March to the beat of a different drummer,' and so forth.

And then I started reading the poem, and if you read that poem carefully, you realize that the first three stanzas, Frost is telling us that these roads are identical. Have you ever noticed that? `Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth, then took the other as just as fair, though as for that, the passing there had worn them really about the same.' In case you didn't get it, friends, `And both that morning, equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day, yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back.' And so he ends, `I shall be telling this with a sigh. Aomewhere ages and ages hence, I--two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.'

My God, he's told us for three stanzas these roads are identical, `equally lay and leaves no step had trodden black.' So what's going on? I always think what's going on here is Frost is saying, `I know--I wri--I'm writing this as a young man in my 30s,' which he was, `and I know that as an old man I'm going to sit in my chair, my grandchildren around my feet and I'm going to say--I'm going to lie right through my teeth. "I took the road less traveled by."' And that sigh is a sigh of recognition of knowing that he--the roads were--it was chance all along; that he did not take necessarily the road less traveled and that he's going to feel this ne--knowing that he will have the need to pose, to take on a mask of the wise person who--who once--we all want to think we took the road less traveled. That's a human need. And Frost is able to pinpoint these lit--it's these little recognitions that we get when we read Frost's poetry.

He said, `Poetry is all about stumbling your way into these little moments of recognition, not great truths.' He said, `Great truths are for religions and cults. Let Jesus and let the Buddha have the big truths. For the poets, we have these little momentary stays against confusion, these recognitions, these illuminations, which we piece together to create a sense of self and to create a spiritual life.'
LAMB: How old is he in this picture?
PROF. PARINI: In--the picture on the left, Frost is in his early 30s.
LAMB: Where was it taken?
PROF. PARINI: Oh, no, actually--yeah, that--no, late 30s. He's--he's just gone to England. And he--he'd found a publisher for his first little volume of poems, "A Boy's Will," and she said, `Let's go out and get you a picture that we can put for the--for the advertisements.' So Frost is a handsome young man. I mean, he looks a b--d--down there on the right, that's--that's Edward Thomas, who was one of his best friends, a writer whom he met and befriended in England and whom he encouraged to write poetry.
LAMB: And the house?
PROF. PARINI: The house is Little Iddens, which was a cottage that the Frost family lived in--in Gloucestershire, in England.
LAMB: And what happened to Edward Thomas?
PROF. PARINI: Edward Thomas and Frost forged a bond of powerful friendship, the most exhilarating friendship with another man that Frost ever had. They really--they mutually reinforced each other. They critiqued each other's poetry, supported each other, discussed what poetry was and what it meant to the world. And Frost was wrenched when--1915, he said goodbye to Edward Thomas and--because of World War I he had to go back to America. It was no longer possible to stay in Britain. Edward Thomas joined the British Army, went off as a lieutenant and was killed in Arras, in France, a devastating blow to Robert Frost.
LAMB: Who's this?
PROF. PARINI: Down there you have a picture of--of Robert Frost when he came back to Franconia, New Hampshire. There he's sitting on a drystone wall with his son, Carol, who later committed suicide. Frost had a very ba--sad life, you know. He said, `Life was chaos. We work our way through chaos,' he says. And Frost poetry is often very, very dark. And when you think about it, his life was quite chaotic.

He and his wife--he was a c--himself, fairly depressive through most of his life, either exhilarated manic or somewhat down. He moved--he oscillated back and forth between those two poles. His wife, Elinor, was sick much of the time, as he was himself. His son, Carol, committed suicide. His daughter, Irma, was hospitalized, spent--died in a mental institution. His--his beloved daughter, Marjorie, died in childbirth--complications of childbirth. One--his--his--his ch--beautiful little child, Elliott, was a young child of four, wa--died fr--from a--an infection--one familial disaster after another.

I--to look at Frost's life and you know, the wonder is that he got through it at all, and the wonder is he got through it with so much buoyancy and so much spirit. I really believe that every poem written was essentially a triumph over the chaos that surrounded him. I think s--Frost--Frost saw his life as this very tangled wood. You look at a poem like "Directive," and it's a way into--it's--it's essentially a guide to Frost's work. The poem ends--he talks about a brook which is really the--the source of all poetry. It's the Helicon, the stream which flows off the Greek island of Parnassus, in his mind. He says, `Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole beyond confusion.' Frost defined poetry as a momentary stay against confusion.

And I would stress two words there, momentary and confusion. Poetry, while you're reading it, while you're writing it, while you're--you're in the act of performance as reader or writer, you come upon great clarifications.
LAMB: Did you say that you spend two weeks in the summer at his home in Ripton?
PROF. PARINI: Yeah, at his home in Ripton.
LAMB: How do you get to do that?
PROF. PARINI: Well, I get to do that because my--at the moment I get to do it because my wife is the administrative director of the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, which is run by Middlebury College. And so...
LAMB: Bread Loaf Writer's Conference?
PROF. PARINI: It's called--yeah, it's called Bread--two different words--Bread Loaf. It's a huge, beautiful mountain village in the woods of Vermont, which is owned by Middlebury College. And for 70-some years--75-plus years, it's been a home every middle two weeks in August to writers from all over the world. It was founded in 1926, partly because of Robert Frost's input. Middlebury College was left this huge attractive, hundreds of thousands of acres in the Vermont woods. And the president of Middlebury College said to Robert Frost, `What are we going to do with this?' And Frost said, `Why don't we found a conference for writers?' And so Frost was the sort of patron and--and totemic presence at the conference for decades. He let--that's why he bought this farmhouse nearby. And students would come to talk to him every summer and all year round, really.
LAMB: You say that in about 1958 or so he was responsible for bringing culture and politics together, and he was a consultant at the Library of Congress.
PROF. PARINI: Yes.
LAMB: How did he bring culture and politics together?
PROF. PARINI: Well, Frost was a kind of pioneer in--in--in being visible in the--on the political landscape. Before Robert Frost, poets were in--invisible on the poe--on the political landscape. We did not have, in the 20th century, a national bard, so to speak, until Frost came along. And he understood that it was important for someone to represent poetry in the way, say, a poet laureate does. Currently, Robert Pinsky does that in this country. And he is an ol--an old friend of mine and a wonderful, I think, voice, for poetry. I think poetry needs an advocate in the public realm. And we need to keep bringing the--the values of poetry to public consciousness. And Frost was very good in doing that. And the fact that Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy admired him, were willing to support him in his ventures were very important.
LAMB: Was he in favor of government money being--taxpayer money being involved in the arts and culture?
PROF. PARINI: Yes, to a limited degree. Frost, as I said, was no liberal, and so he was hesitant about getting the government involved in anything. But he always said he certainly--if you're going to spend government money, he thought you might as well spend it on poetry as opposed to guns.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
PROF. PARINI: I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: What was your...
PROF. PARINI: A very un-Frostian.
LAMB: What were your parents doing?
PROF. PARINI: My father is--my father moved between life insurance and eternal life insurance. He was part-time insurance businessman. And middle of his life, he became a devout Christian and became ordained and--and moved back and forth between the church and the--and the office--the church office.
LAMB: What church?
PROF. PARINI: The Baptist church. And I always believe I got my own appreciation for language and poetry and began writing poetry myself because of every morning at breakfast my father would read to me--my sister Dory and to me from the Bible, often the Old Testament. So the rhythms of the Old Testament, the rhythms of the Bible became such a part of my syntax early on, diction, that I--I became wedded to those rhythms and that language. And I saw the power of poetry by--by reading the Bible in my early years.
LAMB: What about your mom?
PROF. PARINI: My mom, a great reader, but from a--from an English background, but not herself literary. She was a great reader.
LAMB: Are they alive?
PROF. PARINI: My parents are alive, still living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They're in their early 80s. And I see them regularly, keep in touch with them. I go back to Scranton, Pennsylvania. My first books were really about Scranton. I wrote a novel about Scranton called the "Patch Boys." And my first book of poems really was called "Anthracite Country," published in 1982, and these were poems about growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and--and e--vignettes from childhood and trying to find my own language, trying to describe and picture my childhood.
LAMB: I counted 13 books: five novels, four books of poetry, one textbook, one essay s--on writing and politics and one biography of John Steinbeck.
PROF. PARINI: Yeah.
LAMB: What's the essay and--and--on politics and writing?
PROF. PARINI: Well, my--my book of essays, which came out last year, is a collection of what I think of as the best essays I've written over the last 20 years. And the first section is divided into p--into personal essays. And in that book--in that section of personal essays is--there are several essays on politics where I argue that--there's one essay called "Reflections of a Formally Non-Political Man." And I'm playing off--Thomas Mann wrote a book "Confessions of a Non-Political Man."

And I--I suddenly came in the mid-'80s to the conclusion that, one, even though I liked--would like to live my life free of politics, that it was impossible; that, in fact, part of the job of a writer is to--is to verbalize what one sees. Essentially, to tell the truth as one sees it and to--whatever your opinions are, to state what you see as bluntly and as clearly as possible. And that, I think, becomes a real political act. I've always felt that the role of--I hate to use the word "intellectual," but I will--I hesitate to 'cause it's got so many ill connotations.

But I do think that people who know how to use language, who read deeply, who are reflective and who care about their society have the obligation not to stick their head in the sand, but to constantly be looking around and saying `There's a pothole,' or `This will not do,' or to be--and if you simply--if when you--when you've listened to--I hate to say--you listen to C-SPAN, and you hear all these politicians moaning and droning and speaking in this kind of plastic language, which is not their own voice, standing up in front of the public talking, talking, talking this nauseating language, which is so unreal half the time, this is where we need poetry because when Robert Frost or a poet stands up and--and--and declares something, it's a true statement that comes from the inner self, from a language that comes deep, that begins down in your heels and comes back up over and breaks up over your head. It's a deeply rooted personal language.

And, you know, that's what poets are always trying to do. They're always trying to connect language and vision, trying to make that connection. And, you know, that's why we need poetry and good writing prose because we need writers to constantly be reminding us of the realities of--of--and that--we're not gonna get that from listening to politicians talk.
LAMB: Before we go on to anything else, I want to ask you about Wallace Stevens...
PROF. PARINI: Yeah.
LAMB: ...because in the last book I read for this program, Wallace Stevens was mentioned.
PROF. PARINI: Yeah.
LAMB: He's a Pennsylvanian. He and Robert Frost had a relationship. Who was he, and how did he come up in your books?
PROF. PARINI: In--in some ways, the--the three great American poets of the century are T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost and--and Wallace Stevens. And--and they could not be more different. Wallace Stevens--we've talked about T.S. Eliot and his relationship to Frost, which was troubled. The relationship with Wallace Stevens was just as troubled. Wallace Stevens was--was an insurance man. He--he worked for Hartford Indemnity Company in Hartford, and he was vice president of that company. He put on a banker's suit and lived in the suburbans outside--in Hartford and every day walked down this elm-lined street to his office and sat there doing the work of the insurance company all day long.

Nevertheless, when he would go home at night, he would climb the stairs to his attic, lock the door and take out his Cuban cigars and open a bottle of very, very fine French wine and light some candles, look at his paintings and write poetry. He wrote a very, very deeply aesthetic, moving, powerful kind of poetry. But it could not be more different from the poetry of Robert Frost. These people could not understand each other.

Robert Frost ran into Wallace Stevens once in Key West in a hotel, and they had a little exchange. And Robert Frost said to Wallace Stevens, `Wallace, your poetry is too full of bric-a-brac.' And he just couldn't und--I mean, Wallace's poetry--Stevens' poetry is--is--is marvelous, but it's different from Frost and it's not plainspoken. It's full of fancy French words, made-up words, neologisms. It's very--the word `rococo' is--comes to mind, like a--a very elaborately shaped post-Renaissance cathedral, you know, lots of curlicues of language and thought. It's very much--Wallace Stevens follows in the tradition of the French aesthetes, art for art's sake, that whole movement, whereas Robert Frost is writing about the working man, plainspoken things, but in beautiful language.
LAMB: Did I get it wrong? He's not--then Wallace Stevens wasn't originally from Pennsylvania?
PROF. PARINI: Oh, he was from Pennsylvania.
LAMB: He was.
PROF. PARINI: But he's just a devotee of French culture.
LAMB: And then moved to Connecticut.
PROF. PARINI: Moved to Connecticut. But he was from Pennsylvania, born--grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: There's another story I wanted you to tell about the fire and Archibald Macleish.
PROF. PARINI: Well, one of the things--the main things that they say against Robert Frost in--especially in the Lawrence Thompson biography is that he was a man who was furiously jealous of other poets. And the story that Thompson tells, which I've discovered is true, is Archibald Macleish was giving a poetry reading at the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in what we call the little theater one night, and Frost was sitting in the--in the--in the back row.

As Archibald Macleish read, Robert Frost began taking his New York Times and, page by page, crumpling it up. And he built a big mound of these crumpled pieces of The New York Times. Then he took out a match, lit it and suddenly--whoosh--a bonfire. And he yells, `Fire! Fire!' And, you know, this is--you know, if someone did that when I was giving a poetry reading, I'd probably just die on the spot. I mean, this--this gave poor Macleish pause, and the k--tir--the entire audience fled from the building.

And Robert Frost was persona non grata at the conference for the rest of that summer. In fact, the head of the conference came to Robert Frost and said, `Robert, you're a good poet, but you're a very bad man.' Well, Frost was mischievous, and he was also rude and he was also jealous of other poets, probably more so than many writers, but he was pretty jealous of other poets.

But what I do in my biography is try to take all of these nasty stories about Frost, which are in f--in the world of literary readers and biography readers, pretty current. People think, `Robert Frost, nasty man. Didn't he set a fire to a--start a fire when Archibald Macleish was reading?' Yes, but in the context of Frost's life--this was 1938, summer--August of 1938. What had happened in June of 1938, Frost's beloved wife of over three decades, Elinor, died of a heart attack. He was devastated.

I came across some wonderful journals of a young poet, Charles Foster, who was at Bread Loaf that summer and had dinner with Frost every night. And I quote the journals in there and he said, `Frost was wild with grief.' And he said--kept saying, `I'm just crazy. I'm hardly even myself. I hardly know what I'm doing.' And he was acting out. He was--he was crazed.
LAMB: Didn't he--I'm--I'm confused, though. Didn't he have an affair with Kay Morrison before his wife died?
PROF. PARINI: No, no, no.
LAMB: That was afterwards?
PROF. PARINI: Absolutely. Robert Frost was entirely faithful to Kay while she was alive.
LAMB: And this is a picture, again, of Kay Morrison in the middle, Robert Frost on the right and Ted Morrison, her husband on the left.
PROF. PARINI: Ted Morrison. There we go. That's Frost, Kay and Ted, the great triumvir.
LAMB: What did that work, though?
PROF. PARINI: Well, you know, how did it work? I think that Ted Morrison was a deeply wounded creature, who was able to put up with his wife's infidelity. And I don't think that the sexual part of the relationship between Kay Morrison and Frost was very long-lived. Frost's granddaughter, who is a great friend of mine now and who helped me with this biography...
LAMB: What's her name?
PROF. PARINI: Leslie Lee Francis. Leslie said to me--the best thing she said to me really was, you know, that bi--that--one of the best things was that that was a very short-lived relationship. It was spent quickly. And after that, it subsidized into kind of a platonic relationship. I think that's partly how it worked.
LAMB: I'm still a little confused that--you say at one point he adored teaching.
PROF. PARINI: Yes.
LAMB: But then you go through this whole scenario through the book about how he hated college and he kept telling people to get out of college.
PROF. PARINI: Yeah.
LAMB: And you've got pictures here of Dart--when he was at Dartmouth...
PROF. PARINI: Yeah.
LAMB: ...teaching--what are these?
PROF. PARINI: Undergraduates at Dartmouth.
LAMB: Undergraduate students.
PROF. PARINI: Yeah.
LAMB: Wha--clarify that.
PROF. PARINI: Well, I think here we're back to the old paradox that Frost wanted everything both ways. Frost was himself a lousy student, did not like the discipline of the classroom and did not--did not like orderly knowledge.
LAMB: How much education did he have?
PROF. PARINI: Well, five weeks at Dartmouth and--and a little less than two years at Harvard, and that was it. So...
LAMB: That was it?
PROF. PARINI: That was it.
LAMB: When did he get out of high school?
PROF. PARINI: He got out of high school at the age of 18 in--in 1894 and then went on to five weeks at Dartmouth, dropped out, worked for awhile, then went down to Harvard for really a year and a half and then dropped out. And that was it. That's all the college he ever had.
LAMB: How often--how much teaching did he do?
PROF. PARINI: Fr--from 1917, when he was made an assis--a professor at Amherst till he died in 1963. He was very...
LAMB: This is his house at Amherst.
PROF. PARINI: That's right. He was very rarely not connected to a college. The only college where he taught seriously was Amherst. He had an ongoing post at Amherst throughout much of his life. And in the late teens and--and through the 1920s he taught fairly seriously at Amherst and then sometimes at the University of Michigan. There was a little stretch when he taught at Dartmouth as a--as the Ticknor fellow. And there was a little stretch when he was a visiting writer, did some teaching at Harvard. Then, as I said, in the summers Middlebury College's Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, he often lectured.

But for the most part, Frost felt that the--the function of the writer in the academy was to be a presence, to show how--in many ways, to show a contrasting way of knowledge. In his beautiful essay "The Figure a Poem Makes," he contrasts the--the way of knowledge of a scholar with the way of knowledge of a poet. And he says that the--the--the scholar works by a kind of regularized systematized effort, where you project out ahead and try and move along in a--in a logical way. The poet skips forward and backward, this way and that way, darts to and fro, stumbles upon insights.

And--and even as a teacher, Frost was very disorganized. Some students couldn't stand it at all. There was no set program. There was very little in the way of a syllabus. Frost essentially taught himself. But Robert Frost's conversation was so riveting that all one had to do was sit in a room with him and one became educated. Frost believed deeply in poetry, believed deeply especially in the function of metaphor. He said, `Basically, what I'm trying to do is teach people how to think metaphorically, how to compare this with that.' And he said that unless you're educated in metaphor and have your deep tr--grounding in how metaphor works, you're not safe to be let loose in the world.
LAMB: What was the story of Stark Young at Amherst? Who was Stark Young?
PROF. PARINI: That's a very sad story, I think. Robert Frost was a man of fierce prejudices, fierce opinions. And...
LAMB: Like what?
PROF. PARINI: Well, I would say that he was anti-gay. And he sensed right away that this aesthetic young professor, who was writing novels and plays and lots of literature, lots of critical essays, Stark Young, probably the most popular teacher at Amherst College in 1917 through 1920-something--this became Frost's great rival at Amherst College. And Frost did everything he could to see that Stark Young--to try and get Stark Young fired. He didn't succeed, but he tried hard. And Frost took against the very people who--who supported him, Alexander Micheljohn was the president of Amherst, who arrived--here's how Frost became involved with the academy at all--with the universities and teachings at all.

He was sitting on his porch, which he often did as a farmer. He was a lazy farmer. He was sitting on his porch in Franconia, New Hampshire, in the hot summer of 1917 when this Model T or whatever it was--some old car--came up the dirt road--I've sat on that porch, and I--it's still a dusty, dirt road. And I always--I've sat on that porch many a time and imagined Micheljohn, young, new president of Amherst College, appearing with this feisty young professor, Stark Young, and they--they loved Frost's poetry. Frost had just gotten all of this publicity in the last two years since he came back from England, and they said, `Look, why don't you come down and try your hand as a visiting writer and teacher at Amherst College? One term, just give it a shot.' Frost, 1917, went down there and taught, loved it.

He found he loved the contact with students. He liked having colleagues. He liked being able to put forward his opinions on things, to test his--his opinions. I mean, one of the great things about living in an academic community is whatever you say is gonna get shot down and turned around and twisted around. And so you're always testing your opinion against the hard pangs of other people's opinions. And you're--and so there's a lot--there's a contest. I mean, the word `campus' comes from a Latin word meaning contest. It's a contest of ideas. And Frost loved the to and fro of the academic world. And, in some ways, he always said things rather fiercely and viciously at times. But I think one has to see that Frost was very playful. He enjoyed the toing and froing of this. But he could be very mean and he became mean ab--about Stark Young.
LAMB: He got a--he got rid of him.
PROF. PARINI: Yeah. It was awful. He sided with a group of--of fiercely--I think in those days, you know, nothing was said about Stark Young's homosexuality. It was all--everything was done elusively.
LAMB: Going back to Lawrence Thompson, who we started out talking about. You--you--you say here that Thompson suggests that Frost was selfish, egomaniacal, dower, cruel and an angry man. Do you disagree with any of that?
PROF. PARINI: I don't agree--disagree with any of that. I think Frost was all of those things. I think Frost was angry. I think he was jealous. I think he was mean. On the other hand, he was generous, he was kind. He was kind to his students. He was devoted to his family and his wife, even though he could be mean to them as well.
LAMB: Thompson called him a monster.
PROF. PARINI: Thompson calls him a monster again and again in his biography. And I think that's what I--that's where I draw the line. Frost was a difficult man, a great artist and he lived in a--very trying personal circumstances. And--and--and as I say, I--I don't try to write--whitewash Frost, but he was hardly a monster. There's a terrific desire ever since Lawrence Thompson's to want to paint Frost as a monster. And that's a cruel and stupid exaggeration.
LAMB: Whose idea was it for this cover? And--and what are they trying to do with it?
PROF. PARINI: Well, I will tell you, I have nothing to do with the covers of my books. They're--the art department at Henry Holt & Company comes up with the cover. They're, I think--you know, I--I wondered why they put this--this is--that's Frost at the age of 55. And it's done in a kind of sepia tone with a kind of a fuzziness to it. And I think that's just their idea of--I think that the dreaminess of the poet is meant to be suggested by the fuzziness of the--of the photograph. I'm not sure that it works.
LAMB: Twenty years, you say, you spent with Robert Frost in getting this book out. When you left Scranton, where'd you go to school?
PROF. PARINI: When I left Scranton, Pennsylvania, I went to Lafayette College in Easton, took my junior year abroad in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews. Beautiful, by the northern sea, I loved that place. Students wore scarlet gowns. Liked it so much that I came back briefly to just finish my degree at Lafayette, but then scooted straight back to Scotland for another six years and did a couple of more degrees, a bachelor's degree and a PhD at the University of St. Andrews where I began writing poetry.

I was very lucky in my mentors there; ran into a Scottish poet by the name of Alaster Reed, who became my mentor and friend, still my dear friend, and wrote poems. I would pedal on my bicycle every day out to Alaster's cottage on the old course, the golf--the first golf course in the world. And I would bring him--through the rain I pedaled. Every day I would put a damp poem on Alaster's desk. We would have a cup of tea. And he would go through it and cross out lines and add lines, and essentially he'd say, `Come. I'll correct your poem.' And I started--published my first book of poems in Scotland when I was still an under--still a graduate student there, began publishing poems and reviews in various journals.
LAMB: Where have you been located in schools so far? How--you mentioned...
PROF. PARINI: Only two places. I've only ever taught--I've d--my--my life had--has been limited to Dartmouth and Middlebury College. Two...
LAMB: And family?
PROF. PARINI: And I have--I have a wonderful wife of many years, whom I met at Dartmouth back in the '80s--early '80s.
LAMB: How many children?
PROF. PARINI: And I have three boys: Will, Oliver and Leo.
LAMB: Any of them poets?
PROF. PARINI: And they--I see a poetic tendency in some of them. But the two older boys are teen-agers, and they're more interested in skateboarding and snowboarding. My oldest boy is a--a terrific guitar player. He's really a kind of Jimi Hendrix in the making. So his poetry is expressed on his guitar. Oliver's poetry--the middle boy, his poetry is expressed on the lacrosse field and on his snowboard or his skateboard.
LAMB: By the way, where'd you write this book?
PROF. PARINI: This book was written on backs of envelopes, traveling here and there, mostly in Vermont at my study. I live in this old farmhouse in Vermont. I have a study. Most of it was written there.
LAMB: What's next?
PROF. PARINI: I--let me see, it's been a--a busy time for me and I've had four books out in the last two years: the book of essays; the novel called "Benjamin's Crossing," about the life of Walter Benjamin,' a German Jewish intellectual who was chased by the Nazis over the Pyrenees into Spain--that came out last year; and a book of poems, "House of Days," was published last year by Henry Holt, Frost's publisher; and the Frost biography. So with--having gotten through these four books, I'm now in a period of--of thinking where to go next. I'm writing poems, and I'm working on a novel. Who isn't? But I'm working on my sixth novel right now and--and loving--loving doing it.
LAMB: This is the book, "Robert Frost: A Life" by Jay Parini. Thank you very much.
PROF. PARINI: Nice to be here.
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