We are delighted that A. M. Dolan’s play This Verse Business — a one-man play about Robert Frost — will be performed in Amherst’s Kirby Theater at 8:00 on Thursday and Friday this week. Dolan conducted much of his research for the play in the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College and made extensive use of our holdings of audio and video recordings of Robert Frost. At 4:00 PM on Thursday, November 28, I will be on a panel discussion “Robert Frost: From Page to Platform” with playwright A. M. Dolan and actor Gordon Clapp who plays the part of Robert Frost. In preparing for this event, I spent a little time looking into our audio-visual holdings in the Frost Collection.
The Frost Collection at Amherst College grew out of donations of books, manuscripts, and other materials from a variety of sources — mostly alumni and faculty who had relationships with Robert Frost. Among these, Jack W. C. Hagstrom (AC 1955) is chiefly responsible for the outstanding collection of audio tapes of Frost’s readings.
During his years at Amherst, Jack developed a friendship with Frost and began collecting his work in earnest. In 1959 Robert Frost sent Jack a letter empowering him to gather copies of as many recordings of Frost’s “talks and recitations” as could be had. Our files from the 1960s are filled with correspondence with Jack and others about the acquisition and delivery of many of our Frost recordings.
In the 1980s, all of our reel-to-reel Frost recordings were transferred to cassette tapes — a total of 171 tapes that range from March 1941 to December 1962, just one month before Frost’s death. These cassettes are available for use in the Archives and are listed in the Finding Aid to the Robert Frost Collection. Currently, none of our audio recordings of Frost are available online.
Another facet to our collection is the range of materials that document Frost’s appearances on film during his lifetime. We have fewer than a dozen films, but among them is one of the most interesting documents of Frost as a performer and a persona: Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (1963).
This documentary by filmmaker Shirley Clarke won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1963 and it captures Frost in performance near the end of his life. It includes footage of Frost speaking at Sarah Lawrence and Amherst College along with interviews and other footage of Frost.
This film was recently re-released as part of the Shirley Clarke project by Milestone Films (as reported in the New York Times in April 2012). A copy of the new DVD is available for viewing in the Frost Library circulating collection and two copies of the original 16mm film released by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston are available in the Archives & Special Collections. Beyond the finished product of Clarke’s labors, the Archives also holds complete transcripts for all of the interviews conducted with Frost for the project. One can read the full text of the interviews to discover what parts did not make the final cut of the film. These transcripts sit alongside the many folders full of transcripts of other Frost tapes, including tapes of Frost not held by the Archives.
The documentary was part of a larger marketing campaign for Holt, Rinehart, and Winston who also released a book and a record of Frost reading his poems at the same time. The book, the record, and several copies of their advertising flyer are included in the collection.
Their advertising slogan — “Frost should be read…and seen and heard as well” — is most fitting for a poet who so frequently performed his poems and whose performances provide essential insight to his work.