cover image The Letters of Robert Frost: Volume 1, 1886–1920

The Letters of Robert Frost: Volume 1, 1886–1920

Edited by Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Robert Faggen. Harvard Univ./Belknap, $45 (822p) ISBN 978-0-674-05760-9

Not the rustic sage, but the savvy, ambitious, cosmopolitan poet emerges from this first volume of Frost’s lively, shrewd letters. The editors include every missive chronologically, most from 1912 onward, when Frost, pushing 40 and sojourning in England, won acclaim with his long-incubated first poetry books after a feckless career farming and teaching. These letters show him seizing fame by the lapels: invading London literary circles; cultivating editors, publishers, and other poets, including a testy Ezra Pound; helpfully coaching critics on how they should review him; drumming up lucrative public readings and lectures. Settled back on a New Hampshire farm, he both nurtures and protests his image as the bard of plain-spoken New England, while influencing the poetry scene and promoting his own protégés. But beyond his devotion to careerism and literary politics, Frost produces trenchant criticism and elaborates his poetics of “sentence tones”—his incorporation of the musicality of ordinary speech into an expressive vernacular that made him the most accessible of modernists. The editors’ exhaustive, well-organized notes and appendices, explicating every obscure figure and stray allusion, make the collection a must for scholars; but Frost’s witty, urbane style make the letters an engaging browse for ordinary readers, too. 9 halftones. (Feb.)