Amherst Poet Robert Francis
By Henry Lyman
Friday, October 20, 12:15PM
Strong House, 67 Amity Street, Amherst, MA
Robert Churchill Francis, once described by Robert Frost as “the best neglected poet,” was born on August 12, 1901 in Upland, Pennsylvania. He attended Harvard University; after graduating, he moved to Amherst, where he taught high school for one year, and then devoted his life to writing poetry. He lived in Cushman in a small house he built in 1940 that he named “Fort Juniper,” inspiring editors at the University of Massachusetts Press to name their poetry award the Juniper Prize. His autobiography, The Trouble with Francis (1971), recounts in detail the construction of this retreat, even including a ledger of materials and their cost down to the last nail, as though the poet were driven to prove his frugality.
“My speciality has been not to earn much but to spend little,” Mr. Francis told The Daily Hampshire Gazette in a 1981 interview.
In The Satirical Rogue On Poetry, his curious collection of witticisms, criticisms and aphorisms, Francis included a short essay called “Poetry and Poverty.” Here he cited the poet, Robert Herrick, whose cottage garden provided sufficiency for a modest board: “Or pea, or bean, or wort, or beet, whatever comes, content makes sweet.” From his own experience Francis proposed that “a young poet just out of college and not yet married might consider a Herrick sort of life for a few years. Like Herrick he could grow the pea, the bean, the wort, the beet, and like Herrick, he could keep a hen. Rough clothes, old clothes, would be fine. A good half the day or half the year he could have clear for himself and his poetry. Even if he didn’t wholly like such a life, it might be better than going hungry in New York or Paris. He could always move to the city whenever his income permitted…. He might, of course, like it. He might decide to stay on. Healthy, solvent, and independent, he might find cottage life good for him, and being good for him, good for his poetry as well.”
During his writing career, Francis served as Phi Beta Kappa poet at both Tufts and Harvard. A world traveler, he often journeyed to Europe, at one time teaching at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon.
Join us with your lunch in hand. We will provide coffee, tea and cider for you as you listen to the presentations. The 30-minute program will begin promptly at 12:15 with seating and beverages ready just before noon. The lectures are free and everyone is welcome to attend.