The Road Finally Taken

Robert Frost’s influence on the generations that followed him seemed limited, but the last several decades have yielded renewed interest:

Narrative was the road not taken for Modernism, and Frost’s powerful examples were ignored by the few poets who did major work in the narrative mode. … Then, in the 1980s, just when it would have been safe to declare the matter of Frost’s narrative influence dead, something unexpected happened. A new generation of American poets began to revive verse narrative, and they chose Frost as their chief model.

Born seventy years after Frost and steeped in Modernism, they felt that he had opened up possibilities for a contemporary style of narrative poetry that had never been exploited. They admired both Frost’s technique (blank verse, conversational tone, understated diction, direct dialogue) and his powerfully psychological characterizations. “The New Narrative” became one of the signature movements of the period, and a significant group of young poets emerged, including David Mason, Andrew Hudgins, Mark Jarman, Marilyn Nelson, Sydney Lea, Robert McDowell, and Christian Wiman. All explored the Frostian narrative tradition—often in strikingly different ways. Some of their poems, set in rural locations, such as Lea’s “The Feud,” McDowell’s “The Pact,” and Wiman’s “The Long Home,” pay deliberate homage to their master. Others set in urban or suburban milieu adopt Frost’s techniques to new subject matter. His approach proved both fresh and flexible—​a rich vein of Modernism that had remained untouched.

Previous Dish on Frost here, here and here.

(Video: Robert Frost reads “Birches“)