The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday October 5th

Q&A with NC Botanical Garden Director Peter White

The N.C. Botanical Garden is hosting “Robert Frost — Full Day of Spring” today to celebrate Frost’s 140th birthday, his poetry and the science that inspired it.

Staff writer Katie Hjerpe spoke with Garden Director Peter White about his plans for and connections to the program.


Time: 7 p.m. today
Location: N.C. Botanical Gardens

Daily Tar Heel: What will you be talking about at the event?

Peter White: Robert Frost was very interested in science, and people understand that he wrote poems about being in the outdoors. But he was a really good scientist in learning the scientific names and identifying birds, plants and insects. He also was interested in ecology and conservation of nature.

DTH: How will you connect him to UNC?

PW: It turns out that he actually had a connection with this campus.

In the 1950s, he would journey from where he was living in New England to Florida. Along the way he would read poetry at all the great universities … He would read at Memorial Hall.

It was described in the newspaper as “An Annual Rite of Spring,” and that’s what I will be doing at the botanical garden.

DTH: How will the event be structured?

PW: I have selected 58 poems. I will talk about some entire poems, but I will often just be talking about little bits of those 58.

I will pair the poetry with the scientific story that’s underneath them. So this is fun for me for another reason because I’m a scientist.

But on the other hand, my mother was an English teacher, and it’s sort of like pulling together the artistic side and the scientific side of human nature, and that was really fun for me.

DTH: How will you relate your personal experiences to Frost?

PW: I grew up in New England and my mother taught English, and when we went up to this cabin in Maine, she would break out the Frost because it’s the same landscape that he walked.

The personal part is that I fell in love with nature in Maine at this lake when I was 7 or 8, and I also got exposed to his poetry. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I put two and two together and developed this talk.

DTH: What wildlife will you discuss in reference to Frost’s poetry?

PW: I will talk about very specific species of plants and animals because he was so specific — which is what’s so impressive about him.

For example, I’ll talk about the wood thrush. He wrote a very beautiful poem about this bird with a very beautiful song called “Come In.” He talks about it coming out and singing in the spring.

I will illustrate and read through the poem, then talk about how wood thrushes require bigger patches of forest. We hear them singing on this campus because there are big patches.

DTH: What do you hope people will take away from this event?

PW: A different view of Robert Frost, and of artists who are true to nature — who really look at the details of nature. He was an outdoor poet. All his poems were about being outside, so I want people to go outside in the spring to look at the birds and flowers.

DTH: Why is continued celebration of poetry important?

PW: We keep talking about the left and right sides of our brains, the inspiration and the logic, the science and the art — but human beings are one thing and both sides are equally important.

In the botanical garden, you’re expecting scientific names of plants and trees. But you also expect it to be beautiful with benches to sit on to look at the nature.

Science and art are different, but they’re very connected.

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