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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Poetical punishment for the Frost farm vandals

By June 4, 2008

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Does this “punishment” fit the crime? The teenagers who partied too hard and trashed Robert Frost’s farm home in Vermont have been sentenced to sit through two class sessions on Frost’s poetry, taught by the Middlebury College professor who is also Frost’s biographer, Jay Parini. The prosecutor has said he hopes this sentence will teach them something about who Frost was and why they should respect his property — and in that sense I suppose it’s an appropriate response to their bad behavior — but I can’t help but wince at the use of poetry as punishment, reinforcing the Victorian stereotype of poems as improving pills, to be suffered through for one’s own good. What do you think?

from Associated Press:
From bad to verse: Vandals get classroom penance,” by John Curran
“Call it poetic justice: More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost’s former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.... Using ‘The Road Not Taken’ and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways — and the redemptive power of poetry.”

from The Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
A Poetry Punishment for Vermont Vandals,” by Dan Slater
“Last December, two metaphorical roads diverged in the Vermont woods, and, teenagers being teenagers, they took the road long-traveled by teenagers — directly to the party. This party happened to be at the historic Vermont home of the late poet Robert Frost, where twenty-eight teenagers broke in, drank beer and trashed the place.... For their transgressions, each was found guilty, mostly of trespassing, and sentenced to two sessions of study with the Frost biographer, poet, and professor Jay Parini — a ‘punishment,’ notes The New Yorker, for which Middlebury students normally pay a hefty sum.”

Our original posting on the vandalism:
Frost’s Homer Noble Farm Treated Most Ignobly

More on Robert Frost:
Profile of Robert Frost, American farmer/philosopher poet
Library of Poems by Robert Frost
Study Guide to “The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost Talks About Poetry
A Robert Frost poem handwritten & hidden away: “War Thoughts at Home”


June 5, 2008 at 8:34 am
(1) Adan Lerma says:

i hope the punishment is meant to be a surprise enjoyment and appreciation of the man who’s place they “trashed” is really someone worth treasuring

hope really does spring eternal, i guess :-)

June 7, 2008 at 6:58 am
(2) Runatyr says:

The punishment is far better than having them all paint lines in a parking lot somewhere. Education as punishment is fine with me, as with a good instructor (it seems they will have one) the vandals may really walk away with a life lesson and a greater appreciation for people, property, and poetry.

June 7, 2008 at 6:22 pm
(3) Bix2012 says:

I find the “punishment” in this case neither clever or cute…nor creative, for that matter. And, contrary to everything I’ve read about it, there is no “insight or wisdom” in that decision. Quite the opposite, actually–however, what has been done (quite by accident, I’m sure) is a little light has been shone toward understanding why our society is such a cultural wasteland.

To consider poetry, or any type of artistic expression, a plausible form of punishment is just absurd to me–more even, it’s perverted, and it is unhealthy.

For us, as human beings, to allow portions of the artistic community to be so debased serves no positive purpose–no good can come of it; it canna continue.

Think! We have already lost so much of that part of ourselves–and our children are losing even more–they are sent to a learning environment for young minds that ignores creativity! That’s horrific.

No wonder our society is overflowing with so many disaffected, disillusioned & uninvolved, uninterested people–every day, we’re becoming more and more jaded, every day our vitality is being drained away, we are under assault–and the more we deny and ignore our creative selves, the more unimaginative we become–dull-eyed, listless, fixating on the vain and the vain-glorious-turning inward, always toward the self, at our most base…

Until we have all forgotten Beauty & Truth.

July 3, 2008 at 2:22 am
(4) Margy Snyder, Poetry Guide says:

You might be interested in Jay Parini’s account of teaching the convicted vandals, published in The Washington Post: A Case of Poetic Justice. Literally. His conclusion is a hopeful one: “My guess is that they know a lot more about Frost as a presiding spirit in American poetry now than they did before the break-in. More importantly, they know that poetry matters (at least to some people) and that it can help us live our lives more attentively….”

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