Farnsworth, Robert

Robert L. Farnsworth

Senior Lecturer in English



Hathorn Hall, Room 300



Born in Boston in 1954, Robert Farnsworth grew up in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and earned degrees from Brown (A.B. English ’76) and Columbia Universities (M.F.A. School of the Arts, ’79)

As an undergraduate and graduate student he studied with Edwin Honig, Michael Harper, Stanley Plumly, Philip Levine, Daniel Halpern, Carol Muske-Dukes, and Derek Walcott, who helped him broaden and hone his poetic tastes and experience. Reconciling distance with detail, intimacy with larger comprehensions, the habitual with the strange or exotic, the personal voice with the ‘other voice’ of mask and allusion have always been vital impulses in his writing. (Read and listen to a selection of Farnsworth’s poems at From the Fishhouse.org. or at http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/).

Farnsworth’s poetry has appeared widely in magazines across the U.S., in Canada and the UK, including the Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly, Ploughshares, Tri-Quarterly, The American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Malahat Review, Poetry & Audience, etc.. He published two collections from Wesleyan University Press: Three or Four Hills and A Cloud (1982) and Honest Water (1989), and most recently, Rumored Islands (2010) from Harbor Mountain Press. 

For seven years (1998-2005) he edited poetry for the national quarterly The American Scholar, and in the summer of 2006 was honored to be the resident poet at The Frost Place in Franconia, NH, an organization he now serves as a member of the board of trustees, and in 2011 as faculty for the annual Festival Conference in Poetry.  Over the years, Farnsworth’s work has won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry and a P.E.N. Discovery citation. He frequently facilitates literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) discussion groups for the Maine Humanities Council at hospitals, libraries, and other sites.

Twice recipient of Bates’ Kroepsch Award for excellence in teaching, he has taught writing and literature in the SUNY system, at U.C. Irvine, Ithaca College, Colby College, and for the past twenty-five years at Bates.  In 1991, in collaboration with his English department colleagues, he founded the concentration in creative writing, and the reading series now called Language Arts Live.  He lives beside the Androscoggin River in Greene, Maine, with his wife Georgia Nigro of the Bates Psychology Department, and two Chinooks.

Recent Courses:

  • Advanced Poetry Writing ENG 392
  • Frost, Stevens, Williams ENG 121C
  • Modern Irish Poetry ENG 264
  • Poetry & Place ENG 395O
  • 5 American Women Poets ENG 395F
  • The Lyric Answers ENG 395J


Aboard the freighter Independent Pursuit, 2009

Aboard the freighter Independent Pursuit, 2009

I’ve spent my thirty years of teaching prompting students to discuss poems in fine-grain detail– how they’re working, what they’re after. And that takes hours. Good hours, the best hours, if they convince participants that this art really is, as Frost once said it was, “a way of taking life by the throat”– urgent, relevant, capable of revealing and embodying our many-mindedness, as readers, as writers, as people; of revealing and naming what Adrienne Rich once called “the secrets you don’t know you’re keeping”.  Once they’ve gotten into your blood, the words, the lines of poems tell each other increasingly complex and subtle things, just by being in proximity within a living person. They become different experiences as the years you live with them pass.  All I want for my students, writers and readers both, is that those poems they come to bear inside keep troubling and delighting them. Some mottoes I write, read, and teach by:

While you are reading you are the book’s bookRalph Waldo Emerson

Writers: how books get to read each other.  James Richardson

The use of life is to learn metaphor.   Ralph Waldo Emerson

Writing poems is a process of trial and error. Experimental. Anxious. But also designed and designing. Bemusing. Amusing. Conducted so as to surprise: You. First. About life. About words. About art.