A constant stream of visitors to Gardiner, Maine, inquire at the Gardiner Public Library about the places in the city associated with Edwin Arlington Robinson. Accordingly, the purpose of this tour guide is to give basic information about the poet Robinson and the principal places in this community where such visitors can glimpse the Tilbury Town of Robinson’s life and poetry.
This reference guide started to take shape in the spring of 2000 when one of the foremost literary biographers of our time announced his intention to write the first new Robinson biography in forty years. He is Scott Donaldson, biographer of Ernest Hemingway, Archibald McLeish, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Walking in the footsteps of the subject of a biography is essential. Gathering of facts is one thing, but to relate them in a spatial and temporal setting is quite another thing. I was called upon to provide Dr. Donaldson with as many local references as possible from newspaper files, documents on file at the Gardiner Public Library, and records of the county court house and state archives. Then the good professor announced the day he would travel to Tilbury Town to see the sights.
I arranged a list of two dozen sites into a circuit so as to fit everything into one day. I mounted photographs of the sites in plastic sleeves lest time be lost. We did as much of the circuit on foot as possible so that places would not dissolve into one blur. We started early one August morning. Only darkness brought our peregrination to a halt. Representative Stephen Hanley and his wife Sheila graciously opened the Robinson-Hanley home. Dr. Donaldson and I poked our noses through every nook and cranny from attic to cellar.
Dr. Donaldson’s Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet’s Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007) is outstanding. Also in February 2007 Knopf in the Everyman Library series will publish an anthology of Robinson’s poems edited by Dr. Donaldson. Robert L. Gale, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, published recently An Edwin Arlington Robinson Encyclopedia (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006).
A sense of Gardiner’s community history is instilled throughout the Robinson biography, not only the early years of the poet’s life, but Gardiner never left the poet as witness the Tilbury Town characters that appeared throughout the twenty-eight volumes of Robinson’s poetry.
Found in this website is a brief Robinson biography setting the stage for twenty-four sites in the greater Gardiner community, a bibliography of his writings, a bibliography of books about him and his poetry, and a sketch of the community history within the context of Robinson’s life. These provide essential background for twenty-four sites that evoke the poet’s spirit.
Anne E. Davis, Director of the Gardiner Public Library, envisioned the importance of this reference guide when she saw the documents I compiled for Dr. Donaldson. Jerome Maschino photographed the sites. Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Maine State Historian, reviewed the text and suggested that we use material that appeared in our Gardiner on the Kennebec (1996) Thanks to volunteers at the library. Patricia Burdick, Curator of Special Collections at Colby College, granted permission to reproduce two portraits. Robinson’s grandniece, F. Elizabeth Calloway, donated many family photographs, relics, and documents to the Gardiner Library Association’s Special Collections. David S. Nivison, grandnephew of the poet and trustee of the Robinson estate, gave permission to publish the selected poetry and rendered advice.
Janet Bolduc, technology librarian, at Gardiner Public Library, helped me during the scanning of the historic images. Glenna G. Nowell served as one of the readers of the final revision of the text. Daniel W. Bates rendered invaluable copyediting and legal advice during the concluding weeks of the website development. And finally, Matt Noyes of Studio MN, rendered an outstanding layout and design services in the production of this website.
Danny D. Smith
Chairman, Special Collections Committee
Gardiner Library Association