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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.”

 

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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 Boston’s 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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 Issue 23/24 of The Robert Frost Review is out! Join now for your copy.

Contact us with general inquiries at robertfrostreview@gmail.com.

 


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