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The Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection

Robert Frost and Victor E. Reichert

Dr. Jonathan Reichert, UB Physics Professor Emeritus, Donates His Father’s Robert Frost Collection to the Poetry Collection

In 1939, the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) gave a poetry reading in Cincinnati, Ohio, where in the front row sat Rabbi Victor E. Reichert (1897-1990). Although Reichert, whose own favorite poet had been Edwin Arlington Robinson, had only attended the event at the encouragement of his wife, Louise, afterwards he and Frost immediately struck up an enthusiastic conversation. That moment began a remarkable friendship between the poet and the rabbi, whose Robert Frost collection is now available to the public for research in the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, thanks to a generous donation from his son, Dr. Jonathan Reichert. Victor Reichert was a rabbi with a passion for poetry just as Frost was a poet concerned with spiritual questions, and over the years their relationship deepened. At Frost’s invitation, the Reichert family spent many summers vacationing at the Schoolhouse cottage near Frost’s home in Ripton, Vermont. As rabbi of the Rockdale Avenue Temple in Cincinnati from 1938 to 1962, Victor Reichert invited Frost to present a sermon on October 10, 1946, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. This Frost did with just a day’s notice.

In the sermon, which Reichert recorded and published, the poet offers anecdotes of his personal religious experiences, and begins by stating that he stands in the rabbi’s pulpit “in the name of friendship and in the name of more than friendship—affection.” In 1960, Reichert was instrumental in awarding Frost an honorary Doctorate at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The story of their friendship, as remembered by Reichert, is the subject of Andrew Marks’s The Rabbi and the Poet: Victor Reichert and Robert Frost (1994).

Reichert and Frost remained close until the poet’s death in January of 1963, two years after reading his poem, “The Gift Outright,” at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration. During that time, Rabbi Reichert wrote several essays on Frost’s work, often quoting him in his sermons, and the two spent many occasions together discussing poetry and religion. In one noteworthy exchange, Frost read aloud a draft of A Masque of Reason (1945), and afterward Reichert, a Biblical scholar who published several commentaries on the Old Testament and other religious studies, replied that it should be received as an additional chapter of Job. To Reichert’s amazement, he later opened up the published version of the book to find that Frost had inserted his remark as its last line: “(Here endeth chapter forty-three of Job).” In 1957, Frost inscribed the first volume of his Complete Poems to Reichert, writing: “You and I Victor ‘have multiplied visions and used similitudes’ as Hosea would have us. Thank you for showing me the Bible of it.”

In addition to what he received directly from the poet, Victor Reichert collected hundreds of Robert Frost-related materials and was an active correspondent with other Frost scholars. After Victor Reichert’s death in 1990, his Frost collection passed to his son, Dr. Jonathan Reichert. Dr. Reichert knew Frost growing up, and when summering in Vermont would sometimes bring him brook trout as a means of getting a private audience with the poet. A Professor Emeritus who taught in the UB Department of Physics from 1970 to 1998, Dr. Reichert is now retired from teaching but continues to serve as the President of TeachSpin, a company producing hands-on laboratory equipment for upper-level physics classes that he founded in 1992. Although other institutions were interested in his father’s collection, Dr. Reichert donated it to the Poetry Collection in December 2012. To celebrate the opening of the collection for research, the University Libraries’ Poetry Collection, in collaboration with the University Art Galleries, organized an exhibition of selections from the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection in the UB Kaveeshwar Gallery. On view from January 31 through May 15, 2013 in 501 Capen Hall, the exhibition attracted numerous visitors from Western New York and beyond. More than 170 people attended the opening reception, a record for the small gallery located outside the office of UB President, Satish K. Tripathi.

During his remarks at the opening event, Dr. Reichert explained his rationale for donating these significant materials to the Poetry Collection, singling out the attentive and enthusiastic care he received from the curator: “It is, however, really important for everybody here to know the reason why this collection of my father’s…is at UB. The reason is Michael Basinski.” For two weeks, Basinski, curator of the Poetry Collection, and Dr. Reichert worked closely together six to seven hours each day, inventorying sixteen boxes of unsorted material, examining signed first editions, letters, family diaries, newspaper clippings, old audio recordings, and much more. Often, in order to preserve the historical and personal contexts of these items, Basinski digitally recorded Dr. Reichert as he described them. Addressing the overall scholarly value of the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection, Dr. Reichert concluded his remarks by emphasizing its future significance as one of the Poetry Collection’s many public research collections:

This collection was my father’s treasure. It was never really mine. It is a small, but not insignificant, part of American literature. It is a pebble in the great pyramid. Now it has a permanent home, where it will live for all to examine, to study, to interpret, to debate, and to learn. That’s where it belongs.

Given Frost’s status as one of the most well-known American poets of the twentieth century and the religious nature of his relationship with Reichert, the Reichert Frost Collection has already generated a great deal of attention. After being profiled on the front page of the Buffalo News, the story has been covered from different angles by The Christian Science Monitor, The Paris Review, Cincinnati Enquirer, and Union Leader, with an Associated Press article appearing in news outlets across the country. It was also the subject of a report on NPR’s Morning Edition on January 29, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of Frost’s death. Scholars, too, have taken notice. Carole Thompson, founder and director of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont, has already been to Buffalo twice to help organize the material. And Donald Sheehy and Mark Richardson, coeditors of a forthcoming volume of Frost’s correspondence, have requested research copies of Frost’s letters to Reichert, as have others. Undoubtedly, this collection will be examined, studied, interpreted, debated, and learned from for years to come.

About the collection

Documenting the longstanding friendship and interfaith dialogue between a rabbi who loved poetry and a poet concerned with spiritual questions, the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection features:

  • a number of Frost publications, including several books of poetry, many of which are signed by the poet and inscribed to Victor Reichert
  • many examples of Frost’s annual limited edition poem chapbooks, published as holiday greetings by Joseph Blumenthal’s Spiral Press, spanning nearly thirty years
  • a handwritten draft of Frost’s poem “A Milkweed Pod,” inscribed to Victor Reichert
  • four letters from Frost to Reichert
  • many of Victor Reichert’s diaries, and the notes and drafts of his writings on Frost
  • audio recordings of Frost’s 1946 sermon at Rockdale Avenue Temple
  • materials relating to Frost’s honorary doctorate at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
  • photographs of Frost in Cincinnati, Ohio; Ripton, Vermont; and elsewhere
  • more than 500 Frost-related letters from critics such as Stanley Burnshaw and biographer Lawrance Thompson
  • more than 600 news and other clippings documenting Frost’s popular and critical reception
  • several of Frost’s magazine appearances
  • other Frost memorabilia

A digital collection and select images from the Reichert Frost Collection are available through the Poetry Collection and the UB Libraries store:

Help support this collection by making a Reichert challenge gift

In order to establish an endowment to help support the Poetry Collection’s Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection, Dr. Jonathan Reichert has challenged the Poetry Collection to raise $15,000, which he will then match with a $50,000 gift of his own. Once in place, the new endowment will fund future acquisitions of books, literary magazines and papers as well as an annual lectureship. Anyone interested in making a donation towards this challenge gift should contact:

Michael Basinski
(716) 645-1374

Give now to The Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection