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Robert Frost Society

Modern Language Association Annual Convention


January 3-6, 2019 

“New Trends in Robert Frost Criticism” The Robert Frost Society invites papers exploring new, fresh ways of reading, understanding, and evaluating Frost’s poetry, his poetics, his thought, career, or his public persona. The papers should draw on new critical and theoretical approaches or explore new leads revealed by the ongoing Harvard University Press edition of Frost’s letters. Send 300-350-word abstract and a brief biography by April 7 to Grzegorz Kosc, President of the Robert Frost Society, at


 American Literature Association 
27th Annual Conference (May 26-29, 2016), San Francisco

Robert Frost’s Mountain Interval at 100, chaired by Virginia F. Smith (U. S. Naval Academy)

 The Robert Frost Society sponsored a panel entitled “Mountain Interval: Still in the Shadows at 100” at the 27th Annual Conference on American Literature featured three speakers, whose talks are summarized below.

The first speaker was Tim O’Brien, Professor of English from the U.S. Naval Academy, whose paper, “Mountain Interval – Not so fast!?, ” examined the received wisdom that Mountain Interval was rushed into print with hastily written poems and no overarching vision. O’Brien began by sharing quotes from biographers, literary scholars, and Frost himself, that supported the traditional view. But Tim then presented evidence that undermined this view: first, he provided data showing that more than half had already appeared in print, one fourth had been shared by Frost personally, and fewer than one fourth were actually new. Next, to address the notion that Mountain Interval lacked structure, he pointed out prominent themes running through the volume, including some that were elaborated on by our other speakers.

Marissa Grunes, a graduate student at Harvard University, followed with a paper entitled “Keeping House: moral labor in Mountain Interval,” that challenged us to reimagine Frost’s depictions of rural New England, not as misplaced nostalgia for a disappearing lifestyle, but as a way to honor the hard work, or “moral labor,” of keeping life going, especially for those on the margins of society. She presented passages from several poems that drew attention to the dangers, hardships, and fears associated with everyday life, especially for those were elderly, poor, or otherwise vulnerable.

Jeff Westover, an Associate Professor of English at Boise State University, concluded the session with a paper entitled “Distance, Voice, and Intimacy in Mountain Interval.” Westover provided examples of ways that Frost not only examines barriers (intervals) between people, but also suggests ways to build ties through communication and everyday activities. Jeff paid particular attention to the role of the telephone in Frost’s poems; while acknowledging the usefulness of the telephone for bridging gaps between people, Frost notes its limitations and offers poetry as a more effective method for building intimacy.

Many thanks to our speakers for their thoughtful, well-presented papers on Mountain Interval, a volume that has aged very well. 


 The Robert Frost Review no. 25 (2015) features:

  • George Monteiro, “Robert Frost: The Wisest Man”
  • Timothy O'Brien, “’Simple Calculation’ in ‘Christmas Trees’”
  • Robert L. Schichler, “Several Strokes to Perfection: Deliberate Artistry in Robert Frost’s ‘Birches’”   
  • Calista McRae, “Thinking You Over: Elegies for Robert Frost in 77 Dream Songs
  • Virginia F. Smith, “The Varieties of Natural Experience: The Importance of Place Names in Robert Frost’s Poetry”
  • Henry Atmore, “Review: The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong by David Orr”
  • George Bagby, “Review: Robert Frost’s Poetry of Rural Life by George Monteiro”
  • Lesley Lee Francis, “Review: Algo Hay que no Es Amigo de los Muros: Cuarenta Poemas / Something There is that Doesn’t Love a Wall: Forty Poems by Rhina P. Espaillat”
  • Timothy O'Brien, “Review: Robert Frost’s Political Body by Grzegorz Kosc”
  • Lisa A. Seale, “In Memoriam: John Evangelist Walsh”

Summary of Robert Frost Society 2015 ALA panel, "Sounding Frost"


“Sounding Frost,” the Robert Frost Society panel at the 2015 American Literature Association Annual Conference held in Boston in May, was well-attended, offering three presentations that focused, in light of grammar theory, linguistics, and other approaches to the study of sound in poetry, on Frost’s ideas about tone and sentence-sounds, as these are played out in Frost’s and other poets’ prosody.


Natalie Gerber (SUNY Fredonia), in “Frost’s Vital Sentence and a Global Theory of Discourse Grammar,” compared Frost’s ideas about a “‘distinction between the grammatical sentence and the vital sentence’” (Frost letter to Sidney Cox, CPPP 681), particularly as this is elaborated in his letters and notebooks, to a form of grammar study by German linguists Gunther Kaltenböck, Bernd Heine, and Tania Kuteva. This theory distinguishes between sentence grammar and “thetical grammar”; as Gerber noted in her presentation abstract, “How theticals fabricate the notion of immediate discourse situations, with unfolding speech and present listeners, is fascinating for scholars of Frost”: “Thetical grammar deals with linguistic constructions which are not part of the normal sentence grammar [ . . . ]: these are extra-clausal units such as vocatives (think ‘You must tell me, dear’ in ‘Home Burial’), imperatives (‘Don’t’ ibid.), formulae of social exchange (Thanks), and interjections (Oh!).” The presentation included a fine quotation from Notebook 22 showing how Frost’s sense of sentences as alive in their own right could be taken to illustrate the extra-grammatical sense of immediacy theticals provide: “I never got far with a poem that offered . . . {the} reading voice no escape from the sameness of the meter. I don’t care how much meaning it was loaded with. In fact I sometimes doubt if I value meaning except as it the sentences act up throws the sentences in to group relations like the characters in a play and makes them act up in spirit” (Notebooks 22.7r).


 Jeffrery Blevins (University of California, Berkeley) in “‘To be wild with nothing to be wild about’: Being About in Frost’s Early Poetry,” discussed ways in which the preposition “about” figures in Frost’s North of Boston and in his notebooks, positing that while Frost’s own thinking was related to but not fully a part of the previous century’s “seachanges in linguistics and philosophy” that “fretted about how words could be about anything at all [ . . . ] Frost also offers something that the linguists and philosophers do not: a reckoning with the felt experience of about’s crucial instantiations of differences and distances,” in particular as seen in “Home Burial” and “After Apple-Picking.” In “Local Emblems of Adversity: Seamus Heaney and the Sounds of Frost’s Sense,” William Fogarty (University of Oregon) considered ways in which themes of “the pressure of suppressed emotion and the assimilation of extraordinary tragedy into the ordinary” find sonic and metric parallels in Frost’s “‘Out—Out’” and Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break.” A more extended look at Heaney’s “Whatever You Say Say Nothing” examined how Heaney “makes poetry out of this very dilemma [of “how poetry can exist when the general order of the day is to ‘say nothing’”] by setting restricted, ‘coiled’ local language in the patterns and rhythms of rhyming pentameter quatrains.” 


 The Robert Frost Review no. 23/24 features:


  • David Mason, "Old Man Walking"
  • Welford Dunaway Taylor,"Frost and Lankes, Together and Apart"
  • Mark Scott, "North of Boston and Frost’s 'Great Debt' to William Dean Howells"
  • Steven Knepper, "Political Foundations of 'Mending Wall'"
  • David Sanders, "Correcting the Record: Frost, 'Good Hours' and North of Boston"
  • Nancy Nahra, "'My Kind of Fooling': Robert Frost’s 'A Hundred Collars' and North of Bostons Variations on Horace"
  • B. J. Sokol, "Physics and Tolerance in Robert Frost’s 'The Ax-Helve'"
  • Lesley Lee Francis, "Robert Frost: Franconia Christmas 1915"
  • Timothy O'Brien, "Review: The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886-1920, ed. Donald Sheehy, Mark Richarsdon, and Robert Faggen"
  • Sean Heuston, "Review: The Art of Robert Frost by Tim Kendall"




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