BLOG: Poetry Editor J. Bennett at Frost Place
Appropriately situated north of the White Mountains in Bethlehem, NH, the White Mountain School adopted the motto Levavi Oculos In Montes, biblically meaning, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.” I sense I will have no choice but to do just this over the next five days as a participant at the 2013 Frost Place Poetry Seminar.
After a year in Missoula, one thing has become clear: Montana has a few mountains. Grass-laden and wild-fire ready, they are giants of the valley city. But it’s also a city. If you’ve stopped in Bethlehem, NH, I gather you’re one of three factions: 1) that treaded tire finally popped along route 93, 2) you were magnetically charmed by the biblical shout-out of the town name, or 3) you’re a Frost fan. Yes, America’s favorite rhyming poet spent many days and nights with eyes lifted up to the White Mountains surrounding Bethlehem, fancying the off-beaten paths of these forests, and hiding from Wallace Stevens. But what I find so endearing about this town and neighboring Franconia (where Frost’s former home and the museum actually reside) is its refusal to turn toward urbania. Franconia Population: 924. Bethlehem Population: 2,199 (can’t that broke MFA poet just finally move back home to make it an even 200?)
Today, Robert Frost’s home is a museum and fellowship residency for this country’s best (or brightest and emerging) poets. Robert Hass, Denis Johnson, Rosanna Warren, Mary Ruefle, B. H. Fairchild, and more recently Major Jackson and K. A. Hays (see the complete list of poets here) have all sought asylum for a month or two in the esteemed July-August Dartmouth Poet in Residence program here. They sleep, eat and write in the same home as Mr. Directive.
I was summoned to the Frost Place a few years ago where then Poet in Residence, Robert Farnsworth, suggested I see the home of the man, the myth, the New England legend. Farnsworth was my undergraduate poetry mentor and a dear friend whose mannerisms, speaking voice, and line breaks reminded me of the late poet laureate. I went, sat in the Henry Holt Barn, listened to some poetry, and then went back to Boston. I’ll say then it had little effect on me. I’ll say now, in retrospect, I soon quit my job in Boston and left for an MFA in poetry. One year following that I find myself at the Frost Place. What was it Freud said about subconscious lingerings?
For the next week I’ll be trucking back and forth between my housing and workshops at the White Mountain School in Bethlehem and readings at Frost’s own crib in Franconia. A great environment for seclusion, scenic immersion, and historical re-visitation. These mountains are covered from bottom to top with birches, maples, and spruces. Morning dews linger on through the afternoon and a sudden rain is more likely than an out-of-towner stopping by on a snowy evening. One thing’s for sure, Toto, we’re not in Missoula, anymore.
All the best,
Cover Image Source: ourenglish.org