Sheehan was a professor of English and the classics at Dartmouth before retiring last year and hitting the road with the tour, in which he still flexes his academic muscles with lectures on literature.
Robert Frost and his wife bought their Franconia farm house in 1915, returning to America from England to avoid the looming war. In the five years they lived there, Robert Frost developed in his poetic voice a connection to nature and the wildness of the American character that led him to become one of the country's most revered poets. He spoke at John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration in 1961, but is probably better known to the volume of students who have quoted his 1915 poem, "The Road Not Taken," in scores of college application essays. In 1976 the town of Franconia purchased the house, barn and surrounding area, and a year later, opened Frost Place.
Every year the Frost Place administrators choose one poet whose work shows considerable promise to spend a summer at the house and tailor their craft, inspired by the nature trails and solitude. Then, in the middle of the summer, they hold a weeklong writer's workshop called the Festival of Poetry, during which a few dozen aspiring poets come together under the tutelage of the poet-in-residence and a collection of resident and guest faculty. Sheehan says the goal of The Frost Place is to encourage compassion in creativity.
"The nature of the art is fundamentally served by compassionate interaction between poets," Sheehan says. "The aim of the work is to make the work of another poet richer, fuller."
The goal is to disarm the competitiveness that can interfere with art. " I found over 27 years that people are just delighted to give it up." He adds, "A lot can happen in a week."
It sounds like a lot can happen in a day, too. The Richmond event, brought here by local scribe and writing teacher Susan Hankla, starts with a talk by Sheehan on Shakespeare and is followed by poet and Dartmouth professor Cleopatra Mathis leading a critique workshop. The day ends with a reading by Mathis (who was The Frost Place's first poet-in-residence), Hankla and the workshop poets at Art6.
Hankla has attended the Festival of Poetry three times, so when Sheehan expressed an interest in bringing the tour down south, she jumped at it. "There's just something really special about The Frost Place, mainly because the focus is poetry," she says. "To bring it to Richmond is just a dream." SThe Frost Place Richmond workshop is full, but the reading event at Art6 Gallery, 6 E. Broad St., is free and starts April 9 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 353-8426, or visit www.frost.oisdata.com.
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