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Robert Frost According to Joe Frost


Any Last Questions?  

Joe_Frost_02After his lecture at the Portsmouth Athenaeum in 1997 Joe Frost took questions from the audience. “Have you ever written any poetry?” a listener asked.  

“Written any?” Joe replied. “God forbid! When I was a kid I used to submit them to the Portsmouth Herald and foolishly they published them. But they weren’t any good. Sounded too much like Whittier.” 

Robert had “considerable humor” Joe said, despite the poet’s gruff, often depressive and pessimistic nature. As evidence, Joe held up a copy of a book of verse entitled From Snow to Snow. On the title page Robert had inscribed the copy to Joe “From Frost to Frost.”  

But it was Joe who clearly had the richer sense of humor and a warm good-natured attitude toward life. Asked about the poet’s thick accent, and his own, Joe noted “I find other people have accents, but most of us don’t.” 

What did he think of the negative criticism of Robert Frost, particularly by biographer Lawrence Thompson?  

“I’ve read all those biographies, but I really don’t believe any of them,” Joe said. “Larry Thompson’s book was very rough on Frost,” Joe explained, but he didn’t really blame the biographer whom he had met many times and admired. “You couldn’t always depend on Robert telling the same story twice the same way,” Joe noted.  “Thompson usually picked the one that was most colorful.”  

Increasingly hard of hearing, Joe Frost leaned his hulking six-foot three-inch frame toward the audience at the Athenaeum. “What’s that?” he asked time after time. “I just don’t hear as good as I used to.” Then he muttered, half to himself, “Someday I want to find a friendly undertaker. They must have a drawer full of hearing aids.”  

Robert Frost remains one of America’s best known, best read poets. Besides his four Pulitzers, he earned 40 honorary college degrees, including ones from both Cambridge and Oxford University. His cousin Joe, a reader not a writer, is less well known. But he remains beloved among those who enjoyed his wit and admired his vast knowledge of history and literature. His donated collections continue to serve scholars at the Portsmouth Athenaeum where a bust of Joe Frost, crafted by his friend sculptor Sumner Weinbaum, still grins ever-so-slightly among the ancient books he loved to read. 

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson writes and lectures on NH history. His books are available at local bookstores and on Robinson is also editor and owner of the popular history Web site where this column appears exclusively online.


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