Robert Frost’s poetry is dramatic.
Whether it’s a man deciding which road to take, or a couple arguing about whether to hire a man they’ve hired before, Frost’s poems usually contain a drama of some kind.
This makes the great New England poet the perfect subject for a one-man show by J.T. Turner of Ipswich.
Turner, who is founder and director of moonlight productions and artistic director of The Actors Company, has portrayed such literary figures as C.S. Lewis and William Shakespeare in previous solo shows.
“What I have basically done is taken most of the major poems of Robert Frost which critics and people seem to enjoy the most and used them to propel a story line,” Turner said.
Whether they feature one voice or several characters, Frost’s poems have a way of situating their speaker in a way that’s theatrical.
“Many pieces, especially his narrative pieces, start out in third person,” Turner said. “In the middle, there’s a transition, and an ‘I’ appears. That makes it, for an actor, tremendously appealing. Now you’re that character, in that spot.”
Turner’s script amplifies the situations in Frost’s poems by relating them to the poet’s life, which was often not only dramatic but tragic.
“He’s got all of this tragedy, and somehow he’s able to use it to fuel this amazing poetry,” Turner said.
Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874 and was 11 when his father died, at which point the family moved to Lawrence.
“He married his high school sweetheart, Elinor, then through his life has loss after loss,” Turner said.
Frost’s firstborn, Elliott, died at 4 of influenza, just before they moved to a farm in Derry, N.H. Another child, Elinor, died four days after birth, Turner said.
“That puts a rift between him and his wife,” he said. “If you ever read ‘Home Burial,’ one of the truest poems he ever wrote, it talks about a couple that have this huge gulf between them. They have buried this child in the backyard.”
The pain recorded in that poem apparently remained fresh throughout Frost’s life.
“He never read it aloud, even if people requested it at one of his readings,” Turner said.
Frost’s sister Jeanie died in a mental hospital, his daughter Marjorie died in childbirth and his son, Carol, committed suicide, Turner said.
While it is hard not to sympathize with anyone who has suffered so much, Frost’s first biographer portrayed him in a harshly negative light.
“A dear friend of his said to his face, ‘You’re a great poet, but you’re kind of a bad man,’” Turner said. “We’ve taken a look at the biography of Frost and said, ‘This is a little heavy-handed.’”
More recent biographers acknowledge that Frost was jealous of other poets and could be cantankerous, “but no more than any other great artist,” Turner said.
Frost did love the limelight, and one of his most effective characters was his own public role as a poet.
“I characterize him as being someone who loved New England and created the persona of the sage old farmer who would expound on the universe,” Turner said. “He embraced that role.”
Turner tells a story about a professor at Emerson College who once watched Frost mussing up his own hair before climbing out of a car to attend a reading.
“He loved that image of a rumpled, older professor,” Turner said.
But one element of his public appearances that never satisfied Frost was his manner of reading his own poems, which he sometimes asked others to read for him.
“The way he delivers is not the way I would deliver his poetry,” Turner said. “He would tell you he delivers his poems badly.”
In his essay “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Frost said, “The sound is the gold in the ore” of his work, and Turner relishes the dramatic sounds in Frost’s poems.
“He always said they were meant to be read aloud,” he said. “If you don’t, you lose the sense of sound. For instance in “Out, Out,” when you say, ‘The saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,’ that brings that buzz saw to life.”
The premise of Turner’s play is that Frost is giving a talk at his cabin in Vermont.
“It’s all done in first person, which gives me the opportunity to share a lot of stories from Frost’s life,” he said. “He’s about 60-something when I’ve set my piece, in the early 1940s.”
Frost had written almost all of his best work by then and had lived through most of the major events that defined him.
“Frost is famous for saying, ‘No tears in the writers, no tears in the reader,’” Turner said. “He felt that a poet needed some life experience in order to be a great poet.”
If you go
What: “Robert Frost, Light and Dark”
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Meeting House, 12 Meetinghouse Green, Ipswich
Admission: $10; reservations recommended due to limited seating
More information: email@example.com
Revered New England poet the subject of one-man show