Former dean presents historical study on Frost

By Scott Lindrup For the Daily

Although famed American poet Robert Frost spent only a few years in Ann Arbor, Frost held special affection for the city and campus.

"I like Michigan people and I like Michigan," Frost wrote to a friend after leaving the University in 1925. "I have made more and closer friends than I ever did before."

Frost's time in Ann Arbor is the subject of a book, "Frost-Bite, Frost-Bark," written by former School of Information dean and professor Robert Warner. He spoke yesterday at the Detroit Observatory about how Frost came to the University. "I'm not a Frost scholar and I make no pretension of being one. This is a historical study," Warner said.

Frost's relationship with the University began in 1921 with the founding of a fellowship in creative arts spearheaded by then University president, Marion Burton. Burton was instrumental in bringing Frost to Ann Arbor.

"He liked people and people liked him," Warner said of Burton, whose main difficulty in attracting Frost to Ann Ann Arbor was financial.

Although Burton died after serving only five years, he greatly expanded the University during his short term, with one of his main goals being the revival of intellectual values at the University. This goal peaked the interest of Chase Osborn, former regent and Michigan governor in 1910.

"Burton made quite a fuss over him and fed the ego properly," Warner said of Burton's successful negotiation of $5,000 from the former governor to fund the fellowship.

Frost was excited about the idea of being paid to write poetry. "In the old days, support for the arts was the preference of kings. I was afraid we would have to resort to women's clubs these days to continue," Frost wrote to a friend regarding the Michigan offer.

Frost came to campus in June 1921 and immediately made an impression. He was accused of stealing a cheap vase from a house he was staying at and provided many students with the harrowing experience of reading their poetry to him.

Frost formed strong ties to the students and faculty, especially with the Whimsies, a student literary magazine at the time. One of the students, Stella Brunt, said she liked Frost and said the students became so comfortable with him that they took to calling him Robert or Frost. She went on to say that she didn't foresee Frost becoming a great poet.

Brunt eventually donated her letters pertaining to Frost to the University Bentley Historical Society. Warner used those letters and other materials donated by Frost's family in his book. Frost left the University after a tenuous few years in 1925 due to sickness and a longing for his farm in New Hampshire. Back east, he accepted positions at many eastern universities, most notably Amherst College.

Frost did not completely sever his ties to Michigan after returning to New England. He returned to lecture occasionally and was awarded an Honorary Degree in Letters in 1962."Although the University had been known for athletics, the publicity Frost generated put Michigan on the cultural map," he said. Warner said he came upon Frost's Michigan connection while doing his graduate work in history on Osborn and it became a hobby. "I thought it would be pretty easy and quick but it became hard work. I had a lot of fun doing it."

Originally Published in The Michigan Daily, September 27th, 2000