PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — If Jennifer Graham had been born about a century ago, she could very well have been the first Robert Frost groupie.
Instead, the Northern Maine Community College English instructor on Friday did the next best thing: She organized a birthday party in honor of her favorite poet.
“I just love Robert Frost,” Graham said as NMCC’s Frost Fest kicked off. “Today is really just about appreciating Robert Frost and stopping to think about what he wrote about.”
What the New England poet — who was born 136 years ago Friday — wrote about, Graham said, was family, nature and friends.
“These are things we tend to lose sight of,” she said. “Frost uses simple language in writing about complex issues, and that’s a great juxtaposition for the students.”
Calling Frost the “quintessential New England poet,” Graham’s colleague David Raymond said Frost’s works speak volumes on the importance of work and work ethic in everyday rural life.
“As New Englanders we are connected to the land in a lot of ways,” Raymond said. “There’s a feeling that when you are working you are at one with the environment.”
Frost was born in 1874 in San Francisco and moved to New England when he was 11. Over the course of his life he lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont and spent time in Europe. In 1961 he took part in John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Frost died Jan. 29, 1963, in Boston.
During Frost Fest, Raymond used the poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time” to illustrate Frost’s commitment to hard work and his appreciation of those who valued that work.
“It’s about a guy out chopping wood,” Raymond said. “A lot of Frost’s poems are about what he saw going on in the countryside.”
In the poem, two lumberjacks, fresh from the lumber camps and looking to pick up a paying job, approach the narrator.
“The narrator is not some humanities professor and here come two lumberjacks,” Raymond said. “Only a person who has worked outside and is in tune with nature can write the images in that poem.”
As part of Friday’s event students, faculty, staff and community members were invited to submit displays based on a Frost work.
NMCC student Matthew Dobson took the poem “Fire and Ice” and selected several of his own photographic prints to depict the piece.
“Ten years ago when I was first in college my professor gave me ‘The Collected Works of Robert Frost’ and I read it cover to cover,” Dobson said. “Before I decided what photos to submit, I read it cover to cover again.”
Naomi Sam-Kpakra, minister at the Houlton United Methodist Church, took the famous poem “The Road Not Taken” and created her own variation on that theme.
“It’s about a trip I’m taking this summer to Zimbabwe to help set up an orphanage” Sam-Kpakra said. “There are 300,000 homeless orphans in Zimbabwe, and as I thought about it I saw it would be much more comfortable to stay here and send resources, but the challenge would be to move out of my comfort zone.”
Turns out, that’s something to which Frost could have related.
“He had this idea to become a chicken farmer,” Frost historian and NMCC English instructor Jan Grieco, said. “He was a lousy chicken farmer with his animals always roaming around, his fences in disrepair and unable to feed his family.”
Luckily, Grieco said, Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., found him a teaching position.
“I was a student at the Pinkerton Academy,” Grieco said. “I had that passion for writing and was able to work with a literary magazine founded by Frost.”
In addition to poetry readings and lectures about Frost, the birthday celebrations included the debut of an original Frost song penned by Thomas Burby, which is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWf1ZIc_YoM. There also were frost-your-own cupcakes, party favors, a piñata, Frost trivia and puzzles.
Even with all the scholarship on Frost, after more than a century the poet still has the power to surprise.
“This whole thing is just wonderful,” said NMCC librarian Gail Roy. “Look at all the people who came, and that tells us people do love poetry, [and] even a well-known poet like Robert Frost still has a lot to teach us.”