The Collected Prose Of Robert Frost, edited by Mark Richardson
Did you know that Robert Frost, for the period of a couple years, wrote a series of short stories about chickens for a poultry magazine? I did not, and I greatly appreciated those stories, which were merely one of several surprises to be found here, if perhaps the most welcome one. This book demonstrates what happens when famous people die and they wrote widely in genres that they were not famous for. Robert Frost, for better or worse, is famous as a New England poet, and when he died it was found in the researching about his writing that he wrote a lot more than poetry. As it happens, this book collects together the prose of the author, and does so in a way that avoids his more extemporaneous messages with heavy editing by listeners and focuses on his more formal writing where one can get a sense of the author’s own prose voice. And for the most part that prose voice is appealing. I honestly prefer Frost’s prose to his poetry, and think that if only his short stories about chickens had survived he would still be a writer worth knowing even if he would likely have never been remembered outside of a small circle of historians of obscure writings.
This book is a bit less than 250 pages of core material (the endnotes are lengthy and extensive and go on for another hundred and twenty pages or so) and it contains a diverse and quirky array of prose divided into 76 different documents, organized as best as possible into chronological order. In reading this material one sees the sort of occasional prose that authors write. We see his beginnings as a writer in high school with some selections from the High School Bulletin, some early travel writings and children’s stories from when he was barely more than a child himself. His poultry writings form eleven writings (but one document) that takes up about 30 pages and would make for an entertaining short volume on its own. There are some articles associated with the Pinkerton Academy, and a large number of writings that serve as short introductions to the books of others. This is the sort of writing we would expect that someone would make to support the books of others. There are letters to the editor, various contributions to magazines and other volumes, and even some letters. The result is a pleasing if highly disparate collection of writings.
And, in general, the prose included here makes one feel a great deal more fondness of Robert Frost than may be the case otherwise. We see his loyalty to friends, his interest in farming and in education, his willingness to pay debts to the dead and also support the writing efforts of others. We see him make comments about poetry, including the poets he greatly appreciates, and the effort of writing poetry from people in other cultures, and his own efforts to wrestle with and properly interpret poems. He gives tributes to fellow writers like Faulkner and Hemmingway and Amy Lowell and Emerson, which is sort of what one would expect from a writer of his general tolerance and interest in others and his own place and time. Someone who reads this book will not only get a sense of the sort of prose that Robert Frost wrote, often occasional prose in the midst of other duties and interests, but one also gets a sense of what may be expected of someone as a writer when they have made it to a certain degree of popularity, where their views on the writings of others are considered particularly important.