Putting America's Dead Poets
Back on the Map



Updike #1

Watch the Video "Poetry of the Dead"
about a visit to John Updike's grave
Read the story from the Reading Eagle

Associated Press Runs Natiowide Story
"Founder of Dead Poets' Society Visits Bards' Graves"

"Cundy's Harbor, Maine, Oct 31, 2009 -- Walter Skold, founder of the Dead Poets Society of America, just finished a three-month road trip in which he visited the graves of 150 poets in 23 states. Skold boasts that he set a literary land speed record of 1.66 gpd (graves per day) over the course of his 15,000-mile journey...

"So many of these individual poets have such interesting stories and such interesting lives that I really feel it's a shame that they've been lost to our literary imagination or our literary history," he said. "I'm trying to bring back people's works and lives who have value and who have been forgotten for one reason or another."...

The Library of Congress believes Skold's effort is the first such literary undertaking, said Peter Armenti, digital reference specialist whose focus is poetry.

"I just think it's a fascinating project," Armenti said. "I'm glad somebody's doing it."

Skold's project has the blessing of nine state poets laureate, each of whom was enlisted to participate in poetry readings during his road trip." ...................READ FULL ARTICLE @

@ About the Dead Poets Society of America

@ See Grand Tour Trip Map

@ DPSA Blog: latest news & pictures

@ Trip Statistics

@ Flickr Online Collection of Graves

@ Tombstone Art

@ Help Photograph Over 200 Additional Graves



Maine Poet Sets US Literary Record:
Visits 150th Poet’s Grave in 90 Days

DPSA Press Release, September 16 -- When Walter Skold stepped foot onto Maine’s Appledore Island last Saturday he was stepping into literary history.

His journey to find the family cemetery of poet Celia Thaxter was the 150th poet’s grave he has visited in the last 90 days.

“I was pretty excited to reach that milestone,” says Skold, a poet and tombstone artist from Maine. “Officials at the Library of Congress told me nothing like this has been done in US literary history.”

“I set a new literary land speed record of 1.66 graves per day (gpd) sustained over three months,” says Skold, who traveled 15,000 miles through 23 States to reach his goal.

The Freeport-based poet is now making a documentary film of his 90-day pilgrimage, called “Finding Frost: Digging Up America’s Dead Poets.”

“During my journey I had the privilege of interviewing 9 State Poet Laureates, dozens of well-know poets and scholars, and lots of ordinary folks who love poetry,” he said.

“I dig poet’s graves,” said Skold, a former reporter with history and library degrees, who founded the Dead Poets Society of America last year (www.deadpoes.org).

As a history buff Skold is especially fascinated with the grave sites of forgotten poets.

“I call these bards the ‘doubly dead’,” he says. “Not only did they die physically, but they suffered a second death when their works were consigned to literary oblivion.”

He can rattle off a list of poets who were extremely popular in their heyday, but whose names usually garner shrugs when asked about today.

“Who has heard of Madison Cawein, Eugene Fields, Virginia Boyle, Fanny Parcell, or Elizabeth Hollister Frost?”, he said.

“I had never heard of probably a third of the poets I ended up documenting on my trip,” he admits.

He said studying and photographing poets’ graves combines aspects of many fields, including theology, architecture, literature, history, and the funeral industry.

“Throughout our history the design of poets graves and their poetry related to cemeteries and death have mirrored the changing attitudes toward death and the afterlife in our culture,’ he points out.

He says the major theological and philosophic trends in American history, including Calvinism, Unitarianism, Spiritualism, Romanticism, Darwinism, and Existentialism, are reflected in poets’ writings related to death.

“For example,” he points out that “It is no surprise that the tombstone and poetry of the Puritan poet, Michael Wigglesworth is vastly different from most modern poets, like Conrad Aiken or E.E. Cummings.”

Wigglesworth’s death-headed tombstone says he “finished his work and entered an eternal sabbath of rest”, while a bench over Aiken’s Savannah, GA., grave says “Cosmos Mariner: Destination Unknown.”

In photographing the 150 graves Skold combined past tradition with modernist sensibilities and developed what he calls “tombstone art.”

“Tombstone art is a photographic combination of the techniques of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude, traditional African burial customs, literary criticism, collage, and performance art,” he explains.

As examples he cites using Hebrew Scriptures at the grave of Allen Ginsberg, a red sports car and poems about suicide at Anne Sexton’s grave, fire at the grave of Rev. Wigglesworth, and covering Emerson’s huge rock on Author’s Ridge, in Concord MA., with a black shroud and an orange sign saying “HADES.”

“It was probably a bad idea for my son and I to light a fire at the grave of Wigglesworth on Halloween night last year,” he recalls. “The Malden police and fire trucks came when a neighbor called 911 to say there were satanic rituals going on in the old burying grounds.”

The literary explorer said he enjoyed sleeping under the stars in his Sprinter, “The Poemobile,” next to the graves of some of his favorite poets, including Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Penn Warren, and Randall Jarrell.

“I got locked into Rochester’s Mt. Hope cemetery looking for the grave of Elizabeth Hollister Frost so I decided to sleep near some screech owls,” he says, “But three police cars came and escorted me out around 11:30.”

Out of 151 graves that he set out to track down, only Elizabeth Frost’s tombstone eluded him.

The experience gave him the title of his documentary, however, as her grave became symbolic of the many doubly-dead poets he discovered.

“I am hoping that my documentary will raise some of these bards from the dead and bring their life stories and forgotten work to the public again,” said Skold.

In order to finish his filming he will need to return to document Frost’s grave in Rochester, New York.

“Maybe the Mt. Hope officials will let me sleep next to her family grave, along with the screech owls,” he said. “But if not, I’ll get my picture by daylight.”