Monday, July 07, 2008

Finding the Founder at the Frost Place

[in Frost's barn, David and Patty Schaffer greet guests]
[left, Syd Lea]
Frost Day, by declaration of the Governor of New Hampshire, is the first Sunday of July each year, and today's celebration at The Frost Place in Franconia brought together the poetry center's founder David Schaffer; the long-time board leader and esteemed poet Sydney Lea; the current executive director (also a poet) Jim Schley; and nearly a hundred summer celebrants ready to listen, laugh together, and appreciate.

For David Schaffer, the transition from moderator of Franconia's annual town meeting to presenter of an outrageous plan to purchase Robert Frost's hillside farmhouse and turn it into an annual residence for a poet, plus the site of a festival and conference of poetry, came as unexpectedly as a mountain storm. He took clear pleasure in sharing anecdotes of his first few years as founder of The Frost Place, including revealing what had badly frightened the first resident poet there, Katha Pollitt -- not a bear or a moose, but the booming above the roof that turned out to be the neighboring town's Fourth of July fireworks!

Sydney Lea, whose work PURSUIT OF A WOUND was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and who now has eight books of poetry -- the latest is GHOST PAIN -- worked with Schaffer for all those years, since 1976. In addition to saluting Schaffer, Lea read from his latest work, which in turn honors his first granddaughter. Here's a snippet of the poem that he presented today as "Young of the Year" and which can also be found, in full, on his web site

A small hare’s stride displays itself in snowdust up on this knob
we call The Lookout. Young of the year.
I whisper the term our old folks use to describe
last spring’s wild things -- or the year itself, young year.

Have I a right to the phrase, new grandfather now? I speak it
no matter. Its assonance appeals;
its heft of optimism and forward-seeking
corrects a mood. It's a counter-cry to my vain appeals ...

One appreciative listener, admiring the deft way that Jim Schley stitched together these presentations and another from former trustee and poet Parker Towle, plus announcements of a grant, progress in preserving the house, poets to come... whispered to me, "And how did he find time to write this, too?" The listener tapped a copy of Schley's spring collection, AS WHEN, IN SEASON.

From the cookies and conversation to the sense of heritage and home, it was an amazing day. And oh, yes: This year's resident poet for the summer, James Hoch, had a fully valid reason for not attending the event that would otherwise be saluting his own poetry, too: He and his wife are in the midst of having a baby. We wish them a healthy birth, and a swift return to the mountain, with sunny days and crisp clear starry nights to come.

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