We’re bundled up to our noses and snow is quietly falling. It’s officially winter. Here at My Poetic Side, we’re paying tribute to the picturesque winters of New England by reading tomes upon tomes of poetry by the writers who call the Northeast home. So light some candles, grab a blanket, and curl up with a book of poetry – or two! – by one of our favorite New England poets.
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Edwin Arlington Robinson (Gardiner, ME)
Edwin Arlington Robinson grew up in Gardiner, Maine and experienced a childhood there that he described as stark and unhappy. His parents operated without pretense – they wanted a daughter instead. Because they didn’t have a name picked out for him at his birth, his father enlisted a man from Arlington, Massachusetts to draw a name out of a hat. Because of his disdain for his own name, Robinson always used the signature “E. A.” to represent his dreaded first and middle names. Robinson moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in his early twenties to study at Harvard, but returned to Gardiner in 1893 to pursue writing full-time. His childhood home was designated a National Historic Landmark and was the inspiration for his poem “The House on the Hill.” Readers interested in digging into Robinson’s poetry should pick up the Everyman’s Library collection of his poems, published in 2014.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Portland, ME)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine in 1807, which at the time was part of Massachusetts. After leaving America to spend some time in Europe, Longfellow returned to teach at his alma matter Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Longfellow was known for his lyric poetry exploring national themes. He is perhaps most known for his 1860 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” . He was also known for being the first American to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy. Longfellow died in 1882 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While many of Longfellow’s original poetry volumes are out of print, we recommend diving into either the Library of America publication Poems & Other Writings or the Penguin Classics collection of Selected Poems.
Galway Kinnell (Sheffield, VT)
Born in Providence, Rhode Island and raised in neighboring Pawtucket, Galway Kinnell is a quintessential New England poet. As a prolific writer of multiple genres, Kinnell wrote ten books of poetry, a book for children, a selection of interviews, and a novel. Additionally, he translated the works of Yves Bonnefoy, Yvan Goll, Francois Villon, and Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1984, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. After retiring from his long-term professorship at NYU, Kinnell moved to Sheffield, Vermont where he lived until his death in 2014. For those interested in an introduction to Kinnell’s work, we suggest starting with his collection Selected Poems (1982), which won both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award.
Robert Frost (Franconia, NH)
Arguably the most well-known of the bunch, Robert Frost’s writing employed settings from rural New England life to examine social and philosophical ideas. Frost was honored frequently over the course of his life, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry for his books New Hampshire: A Poem With Notes and Grace Notes (1924), Collected Poems (1931), A Further Range (1937), and A Witness Tree (1943). Many New England cities claimed Frost as their own, but it was his farm in Franconia, New Hampshire that launched his career as both a writer and lecturer. The farm is maintained today as The Frost Place, a museum and nonprofit educational center for poetry. If you’re looking for a book of Robert Frost poems that’s a little unexpected, pick up North of Boston (1914).
Jane Kenyon (Wilmot, NH)
Jane Kenyon, who was known for her stoic portraits of domestic and rural life, spent the last two decades of her life writing on her farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire. Her verse was applauded for its meticulous probing of the inner psyche and the way she explored her own depression, which lasted most of her adult life. Her collection Constance (1993), which won the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, was a deeply personal dive into this subject matter. Kenyon was the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire until her untimely death at 47 years old. She had been diagnosed with leukemia the previous year. If you’re new to Kenyon’s work, we recommend starting with Kenyon’s first book of poetry, From Room to Room (1978).
Phillis Wheatley (Boston, MA)
Phillis Wheatley was the first published African-American female poet in United States history. As a young slave, Wheatley was taught to read and write by the white Boston family who owned her. Once they witnessed her talent in the area, the slavers encouraged her to pursue poetry. Wheatley did enjoy some success as a poet while she was a slave, granting her audience with George Washington and catching the attention of King George III. Wheatley was emancipated after the death of her master, but she quickly fell into poverty and died of illness at the age of 31. While the original volumes of Phillis Wheatley’s work are no longer in print, a volume titled Complete Writings was published by Penguin Classics in 2001.
Mary Oliver (Provincetown, MA)
You won’t find many interviews from the contemporary poet Mary Oliver because she prefers that her work speak for itself. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, her work has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Award, the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other accolades. She has published twenty-one books of poetry, including American Primitive (1983), House of Light (1990), Blue Iris (2004), and Swan (2010). Oliver currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a town that inspires much of her writing. If you’re looking for a place to start, we recommend picking up No Voyage and Other Poems, a book she published in 1963 at only 28 years old.
Rosanna Warren (Fairfield, CT)
Rosanna Warren was born in Fairfield, Connecticut and while she no longer calls the region home, New England has a magnetic pull that keeps drawing her back in. After leaving her hometown of Fairfield, Warren studied at Yale University as an undergraduate and, after receiving her Master’s Degree, taught as a professor for many years at Boston University. A critically recognized poet, Warren has been awarded several Pushcart Prizes, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit in Poetry, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. We recommend you start with Warren’s aptly titled Snow Day (1981).