Robert Frost Donation Sparks Research at UB

From Left: James Maynard, Professor Emeritus Jonathan Reichert, Michael Basinski.

Published February 20, 2013

A professor emeritus of physics has donated a valuable collection of Robert Frost materials to the Poetry Collection at UB.

This collection will reveal how Frost wrestled with his spirituality or spiritual questions and concerns.

The professor, Jonathan Reichert, acquired the collection via his father, Victor. The elder Reichert, a rabbi, maintained a friendship and lively correspondence with Robert Frost for a quarter of a century, after befriending him when they met at a reading in Cincinnati in 1939. Frost invited Reichert to visit him at his home in Ripton, Vermont, and the rabbi regularly spent summers there in the coming decades.

The subject of their long walks through the Vermont woods was faith—the Bible, religion, and how these informed the personal tragedies faced by Frost (which included a sister afflicted with mental illness, the suicide of one of his sons, and untimely death of two other children). Michael Basinski, curator of UB’s poetry collection, believes it is this, in part, that makes the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection of such value and interest to critics and readers searching for insight into the poet’s life.

“As a research tool,” he writes, “I think this collection will reveal how Frost wrestled with his spirituality or spiritual questions and concerns.  And, of course, it is a Rabbi’s collection, so there are questions about religion and poetry and the American temperament that could be posed and perhaps answered. I think only in America can a Rabbi influence a New England protestant. Perhaps within the letters and notebooks, diaries, and other materials is the answer to the question whether Frost was an Old Testament Christian or an atheist.”

Basinski notes that the Collection also includes hundreds of valuable news clippings, articles (including reviews by and about Frost), and ephemera (such as materials relating to the Robert Frost memorial postage stamp) which, taken together, can help researchers explore Frost’s critical reception during the middle of the 20th century. It was then, Basinski writes, that Frost began “his ascension in the American mind as the quintessential American poet,” a title he still maintains for many poetry lovers.

Scholars come from all over the world to study materials at UB’s world-famous Poetry Collection. It maintains a comprehensive record of 20th century poetry books, broadsides, art, anthologies, and little magazines, which have spurred a stunning range of scholarship over the years. In 2012 alone, three books on poet Robert Duncan—a key modern and post-modernist poet—were published using research done in the Poetry Collection, where his archive is housed.

UB will display the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays from Jan. 31 until March 29 on the fifth floor of Capen Hall North Campus.