by Cristy Meiners, producer
Robert Frost’s 1962 trip to the Soviet Union is one of those fascinating events of the past that seems to have fallen by the historical wayside. I learned about the trip from former National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia, who was helping me gather material for a piece I was planning to do on cultural diplomacy. After checking Robert Frost in Russia out of the DC public library and reading through it, I admit I had little hope of tracking down the mysterious F.D. Reeve who had written this slim text. But miracles of the internet never cease; when I typed “F.D. Reeve” in my search engine, I discovered that not only was F.D. Reeve alive and well, but he had a website with an email address! Happily for us, Dr. Reeve was open to the interview, and I am delighted to have facilitated getting this story recorded.
Franklin Reeve first visited Russia as an exchange scholar with the Academy of Sciences the year before his trip with Robert Frost and Stewart Udall, whose recent death leaves Reeve the last of the travelers from that trip. After he returned from the Soviet Union with Frost and Udall, Reeve became an academic and a poet himself, and today is the author of two dozen books and a number of Russian translations. You may also recognize his last name from his son, actor Christopher Reeve.
Robert Frost’s true motivation for his Soviet visit is still up for grabs. Author Brian Hall, in his novel The Fall of Frost, speculated that Frost wanted to make up for his botched poetry reading at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Perhaps Frost thought that as a poet he was in a better position than any political figure to reason and negotiate with Nikita Kruschev and facilitate an end to the Cold War. But no matter what drove Frost to go half way around the world, the very fact that he went shows Udall’s (and Frost’s!) brazen faith in a man who spent his life in the pursuit of words, not politics.