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Robert Gould Shaw - Wikipedia


William Logan’s new collection of criticism, “Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure: The Dirty Art of Poetry,” was published in April.

William Logan’s new collection of criticism, “Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure: The Dirty Art of Poetry,” was published in April.

On July 4, 1913, Robert Frost wrote to his good friend John Bartlett, describing his strengths as a poet: "To be perfectly frank with you I am one of the most notable craftsmen of my time... I alone of English writers have consciously set myself to make music out of what I may call the sound of sense."

Frost was 39 years old when he wrote those words. Despite the hubristic and self-assured tone, he had published one book of poetry, A Boy's Will, and was relatively unknown in literary circles.

Unlike his contemporaries — such as W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot — Frost never produced a significant body of literary criticism on his own work. But it's clear from this collection of correspondence that he cared about how his audience should read him.

That is what makes The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886-1920 such a joy to read. Frost's Selected Letters were previously published in 1964. But this is the first time a complete version of them — running in chronological order — has been made available.

Frost saw these noble exchanges almost like an art form: one where he could deconstruct his own work, and the work of others, with precision and intellectual rigor. The bulk of letters contained in this volume were written between 1912 and 1920. Through them, we get a deep insight into Frost's views on: the mechanics of poetry; politics; the art of conversation; and the importance of structure and syntax in language.

Many readers of Frost's work dismiss his cognitive order, dramatic tension and extreme clarity as a kind of plain-minded simplicity. This misunderstanding may arise because he was writing at a time when modernism — which favored introspection, free verse and abstract images — was extremely popular.


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