Friday, 20 June 2008

News: Poetry as Punishment

Homer Noble Farm. Inset: some of the damage.

In December 2007, a group of partying teenagers broke into poet Robert Frost's preserved home, Homer Noble Farm, in Vermont. During the course of the evening, they caused considerable damage to the building and its contents (see the New York Times account of proceedings, here). What's really unusual about this story of teenage vandalism, however, is the mode of punishment meted out to the transgressors. As the New Yorker's Book Bench reported: "the delinquents were sentenced to two sessions of study with the Frost biographer, poet, and professor Jay Parini, a punishment for which students at Middlebury College normally pay a hefty sum." Said prosecutor John Quinn: "I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people's property in the future and would also learn something from the experience" (via the AP). Selecting Frost's "Road Not Taken" and "Out, Out" as his texts, Parini clearly felt that the punishment was an appropriate one: "Believe me, if you’re a teenager, you’re always in the damned woods. Literally . . . And metaphorically you’re in the woods, in your life. Look at you here, in court diversion! If that isn’t ‘in the woods,’ what the hell is ‘in the woods’? You’re in the woods!" (via the Wall Street Journal Law Blog). So what do you think about the use of poetry as punishment, Frost's or otherwise? (via Guy's Lit Wire.)

In other news: this clearly isn't a good time for historic literary houses. Both Edith Wharton's Massachusetts home, The Mount, and Mark Twain's Hartford, Connecticut residence are in dire need of charitable donation. Support The Mount here, and The Mark Twain House & Museum here.

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