By Luca Gross
Dr. Anna Battigelli, professor of English and chair of the English department at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Dr. Ron Davis, professor of journalism at SUNY Plattsburgh, hosted “An Evening with Robert Frost” Wednesday, April 13, via Zoom.
Robert Frost is one of the most popular names in poetry with countless award-winning poems.
“Frost is America’s national poet, much the same way that Mark Twain is America’s premier novelist. He won four Pulitzer prizes, was awarded a Congressional Gold medal and was even invited to read one of his poems at the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy,” Davis said.
During his career Robert Frost frequently visited the Plattsburgh area and even this campus on several occasions dating back to 1945. Often staying with local residents including former president “Doc” Redcay and John P. Meyers.
“At least one semester, he was a visiting professor and had a campus office,” Davis said. “And he loved Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. He is part of our Plattsburgh family.”
A recording of Frosts’ visit was added to the college’s Special Collections in 1959. Davis Made a copy of this recording in 1973 to play for one of his poetry classes.
“In time, the Special Collections tape disappeared, so Tim Clukey masterfully digitized the original from my copy,” Davis said.
Together with co-host Battigelli and Jack Downs, professor of Journalism and technical producer for this presentation, there were four main focuses on Frost and his work. Davis and Battigelli took turns introducing these themes before clips of Frost’s visit would play.
“Frost as a teacher, his capturing of the intonations of everyday conversations, his love for the formal constraints of poetry and his frequent use of metaphors,” Davis said.
During the clips of Frost’s visit he read from poems as well as spoke candidly to the crowd both about the poem itself and what it could mean. Giving a broader insight into what words can mean beyond definition.
“Listening to Frost both read and talk helps us experience his poems, not just analyze them,” Battigelli said. “At the end of his talk, he urged that we fall in love with poems, and that is exactly how one should experience a great poem. Analyzing poems is fun, too, of course, but you first have to love the poem.”
It wasn’t all about metaphors and deeper meanings however, Frost enjoyed interacting with the crowds he spoke to.
“What surprised me most was his sly sense of humor. He loved making wry comments and getting the audience to laugh,” Battigelli said.
The event had a high turnout with 75 participants in the Zoom call, according to Davis.
“Some of them shared that they had met Frost while he was on campus,” Davis said.
There is a follow-up event planned for May 4 at 4 p.m. in the Cardinal Lounge at the College Center where Nora Montanaro-Davis, a Plattsburgh alum, professor emeritus and award-winning dramatic speaker will give several readings of Frost’s poems.
This is a three-decade tradition of Frost readings by the college’s forensics teams, and reminiscent of Redcay playing piano on campus, Dr. Dexter Criss will play piano as people arrive for “Frost Live.”