John A. Holmes Papers, 1813 -- 1998


Title: John A. Holmes Papers
Dates: 1813 -- 1998
Bulk Dates: 1930 -- 1960
Creator: Holmes, John
Call Number: MS007
Size: 23.95 Cubic Feet, 1 Audiovisual Object(s), 127 Digital Object(s)
Language(s): English  
Permanent URL:
    Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University


This collection consists of typescript and handwritten manuscripts of poems and other writings, correspondence, notebooks, scrapbooks compiled by Holmes, family materials, and book and manuscript materials pertaining to Robert Frost, collected by Holmes. The bulk of the material dates from the period 1930-1960, when Holmes was most active in his writing career, and consists of manuscripts of poems, including many in multiple revisions. Correspondents include Robert Frost, Archibald MacLeish, and May Sarton.


This collection is organized into fourteen series: Poetry; Works; Notebooks; Letters by Holmes; Letters to Holmes; New England Poetry Club; Chautauqua notebooks; Printed works; Scrapbooks; Photographs; Personal and business records; Robert Frost collection; Writings about Holmes; Family materials.


John Albert Holmes, Jr. (1904-1962) was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on January 6, 1904 to John Holmes, Sr., an engineer, and Mary (Murdock) Holmes. After attending Somerville public schools, John Holmes entered Tufts College in the fall of 1925. John Cousens, president of Tufts University, heard Holmes read his class poem at his high school graduation, and, impressed with the young poet, took Holmes under his wing during Holmes' student years at Tufts. Holmes received his bachelor's degree in 1929 and throughout the following year attended graduate courses at Harvard while serving as an assistant in English at Tufts.

Holmes began his teaching career at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he served as an Instructor of English during the years 1930-32. He later returned to Somerville and Tufts, joining the faculty of the Department of English as an Instructor in 1934. At Tufts, he advanced through the ranks of assistant and associate to a full professorship in 1960. He was honored with an honorary doctorate by the University in 1962.

Holmes achieved notable success as a poet and author during his lifetime. He published seven collections of poetry: Address to the Living (1937), Fair Warning (1939), Map of My Country (1943), Along the Row (1944), The Double Root (1950), The Symbols (1955), and The Fortune Teller (1961). His work appeared in numerous publications from literary journals to daily newspapers. Holmes wrote two books about the writing of poetry, The Poet's Work (1939) and Writing Poetry (1960), in addition to many essays and book reviews. Holmes was also an avid letter writer, and had active correspondence with family, friends, and other poets. Letter writing was part of his daily writing routine, and served as a warm-up of sorts for the work of writing verse.

Holmes devoted considerable effort to fostering the development of young and budding poets with whom he came into contact. In addition to teaching poetry and creative writing at Tufts, he taught poetry workshops at the Boston Center for Adult Education, and directed or participated in writers workshops at Tufts University, the University of New Hampshire at Durham, and the Chautauqua Writers Conference. Holmes also hosted an informal poetry circle with other Boston area poets in the 1950s, a group which included May Sarton, Anne Sexton, and others. This group met regularly at Holmes' residence in Medford to read and comment on each other's work.

In 1933, Holmes married his first wife, Sara Frances Ludlow, with whom he had one son, John Ludlow Holmes. After his first wife's death, he married Doris Kirk in 1948 and had another son, Evan Kirk Holmes, and a daughter, Margaret Nash Holmes. Holmes died June 22, 1962 following a long illness in Boston, Massachusetts.

Access and Use

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Please see "Reproductions and Use" on the Digital Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permission to publish. Any intellectual property rights that the donor possesses have not been transferred to Tufts University.

Collection History

Processing Notes

This collection is processed.

Custodial History

The bulk of the material was donated to Tufts by Holmes' widow, with the exception of the Frost Collection, which was trasferred to Tufts by Holmes' will. Additional materials were collected by John Ciardi, a student of Holmes and poet in his own right, and given to Tufts piecemeal. Some materials were sent directly to the archives and were added to the collection by past librarians and curators of the collection.

The bust of Robert Frost (former item MS007.012.063.00001) was a Art Gallery item AI 17800, and the loan was returned to them on May 7, 2018, by Collection Management Archivist Adrienne Pruitt.

Subjects and Genre Terms
  • Poets, American -- Massachusetts -- Archives.
  • Holmes, John, 1904-1962 -- Archives.
  • Tufts University -- Faculty -- Archives.
  • Faculty papers
  • Greater Boston arts

Series Description

  1. Poetry, 1922 -- 1962

    Poems by Holmes. Almost all are typescript originals of poems, and many have multiple revisions and annotations. The bulk of the material is from 1940-61. There was no indication of original order, so poems have been cataloged in the order in which they were filed by previous curators of the collection. The arrangement of the poems is generally chronological, with the earliest poems grouped at the beginning and later poems following, but because many poems were not dated, this arrangement is imprecise. For the most part, each poem is filed in its own folder, except for several binders of poems Holmes compiled which can be found in boxes 10 and 11. The poems in these binders have been preserved in the original order imposed by Holmes.

    An item record has been created for each poem as an intellectual work. This record includes information on the existence of any revisions and their locations. The term "revision" indicates that a version of the poem different from that which initially generated the record exists. Revision in this context does not necessarily imply a chronological progression of edits of a poem from first draft to final version, but rather indicates the existence of different versions of the same poem. Thus the item record for a poem could contain "revisions" which are in fact earlier versions of the poem.

    Full text of the poem is included in the item record. For poems with multiple revisions, the version which appeared to be the most complete was selected for scanning, though this version will not necessarily match the actual published version.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. Items added to this series include copies of poems already existing in the collection and several new, unpublished poems. The duplicate poems were interfiled with the pre-existing copies. A statement was added to the notes field at the item level if the newly-added poem was inscribed, notated, or a different version than the other copies of the poem. One phonograph album of John Holmes reading his own poem, "A prayer on the night before Easter" was added to this collection. Materials that could not be interfiled into the collection were added at the end of the series in box 069. These materials include four previously unpublished poems: "Lines to ittle baby boy," "New woman in the house," "Nobody now has seen a real scarecrow," and "To Effa, with love." Also included are typed versions of Holmes' manuscripts and transcripts of poetry readings. Materials not included and subsequently deaccessioned were generally duplicate photocopies of poems already in the collection.

  2. Works, 1919 -- 1992

    Fiction and non-fictions prose works by Holmes including essays, plays, short stories, newspaper columns, book reviews, lectures, and transcripts of radio broadcasts. The bulk of the material dates from 1950 to 1960. Generally, these pieces are arranged by type and then alphabetically by title, with untitled pieces located after the others. Book reviews are arranged alphabetically by subject author. Transcripts of radio and television broadcasts are arranged chronologically.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. Items added to this series include artworks, essays, book reviews, and a musical score. The artwork consists of two items - one is a oversize drawing of a castle by Holmes and the other is an illustrated copy of Holmes' poem "Going to the store." The musical score is of Holmes' poem "The People's Peace" for choir and piano, with music by Andrew Backus. Essays and book reviews were filed in the appropriate folders. Materials not included and subsequently deaccessioned were duplicate photocopies of book reviews and essays already in the collection.

  3. Notebooks, 1924 -- 1962

    This series consists of bound composition notebooks containing drafts of poems, rhyme lists, lists and notations about Holmes' reading, and class notes and exercises. The bulk of the notebooks cover the period from 1924 to 1930. Holmes used these notebooks to compose poems, keep track of where poems had been sent for publication, and keep general notations about his books and reading, including lists of books read, loaned and borrowed, and books to buy. After 1947, Holmes generally composed at the typewriter, except for two notebooks from the last years of his life.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. A notebook from the years 1932-1935 was added to this series at that time.

  4. Letters by Holmes, 1910 -- 1962

    This series consists of letters, mostly typescript, by Holmes to various recipients including other poets, friends, and family members. The bulk of the material dates from 1935 to 1960. The letters cover a wide range of topics including family matters and daily life, with frequent references to Holmes' poetry and other poets. These letters were added to the collection either directly by the recipient or were given to Holmes' widow after his death, at which point they became part of the collection. The series includes correspondence to Myron Files, Dorothy Gordon, Frances Randall, John Cousens, Gene Wadmen, and others.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. Letters written by John Holmes that were added to this series include single letters to various correspondents that were interfiled in the collection. Also included were three large groupings of letters written by Holmes: his letters to John Ciardi; his letters to his brother and sister-in-law, Bob and Doris Holmes; and letters to Robert S. Newdick. These letters could not be interfiled and were added at the end of the series in box 069. They are arranged by recipient and then chronologically. Materials not included and subsequently deaccessioned were photocopies of letter already in the collection.

  5. Letters to Holmes, 1924 -- 1963

    This series consists of letters written to Holmes by various correspondents. The bulk of the material dates from 1953 to 1960. Much of the correspondence deals with Holmes' work as a poet. Letters to Holmes, especially acceptance and rejection letters from publishers, can also be found in the scrapbook, and several letters were bound in with the poems included in box 10, file 35. Holmes generally did not save letters sent to him, so there are fewer items in this series than might be expected. Includes letters from Archibald MacLeish, Carl Sandberg, May Sarton, Ted Hughes, Maxine Kumin. Letters from Robert Frost can be found in the Frost Collection series.

  6. New England Poetry Club, 1955 -- 1961

    This series consists of materials relating to Holmes' tenure as vice-president, and then president, of the New England Poetry Club. The series includes copies of the articles of incorporation of the Club, by-laws, and membership lists, as well as correspondence. The bulk of the materials date from 1961, when Holmes was president of the Club.

  7. Chautauqua notebooks, 1948 -- 1962

    This series consists of two scrapbook-style notebooks relating to Holmes' time at the Chautauqua Writers Conference, compiled by Marjorie Bertram Smith. Notebook 1 contains a number of poems written and selected by Holmes to be used at the Writer's Conference. Notebook 2 contains clippings and other items collected by Smith and relating to Holmes and his time at Chautauqua.

  8. Printed works by Holmes, 1926 -- 1963

    This series consists of primarily privately printed works by Holmes. The material dates from 1926 to 1961 and consists of pamphlets, booklets, brochures, bookplates, and holiday cards designed and printed by Holmes. The series also includes selected examples of published versions of his work.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. Items added to this series include privately printed material; Tufts promotional materials; and Christmas cards. These materials are generally duplicates and were interfiled with the original material. Several journals were added to this series. They contain an interview with Holmes, his reviews and poems, and other citation of Holmes' work. An oversize poster for a "Wayside Pulpit" with a Holmes quote was also added.

  9. Scrapbooks, 1929 -- 1961

    This series consists of bound scrapbooks compiled by Holmes between 1928 and 1961. Between 1938 and 1956 Holmes appears to have kept the scrapbooks only sporadically, and there are only three books which span this period. The books contain clippings of poems, articles, pictures, book reviews and other materials about poets and poetry, collected by Holmes. The early scrapbooks emphasize the relationship between poems and pictures, and feature numerous pairings of poems by Holmes with pictures that illustrate or inspired the verses. Holmes used the scrapbooks for research and reference featuring poets whose work he prized, and as a way of mediating his relationship with the world of poetry. As Holmes began to make a name for himself as a poet, an increasing proportion of the contents of the scrapbooks has to do with his own career, including clippings of some of his published poems, articles and book reviews about Holmes and his books, and acceptance and rejection letters. For each scrapbook, the existence of unusual or important items beyond the scope of those included above is indicated in the item record.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. Two scrapbooks were added to this series. The first scrapbook was made by John Holmes for the Saturday Review's contest for the best poems published in the Saturday Review between May 1956 and May 1957. The second scrapbook is a mimeographed copy of all of the Saturday Review contest poems.

  10. Photographs, 1880 -- 1980

    This series consists of photographs of Holmes and other poets, family, and friends. The bulk of the material dates from 1950 to 1961. Many of the photographs are formal and informal portraits of Holmes, and publicity photos of Holmes and poets who visited Tufts. The early photos are of Holmes' parents and family.

    These loose prints have been stored separately from the collection. See the barcode in the location field for the location of the print.

  11. Personal and business records, 1927 -- 1998

    This series consists of publishing contracts, diplomas, and vitae. The bulk of the material dates from 1927 to 1962. The series includes the contract for the first work Holmes sold and publishing contracts for his books. Also included are Holmes' bachelor's degree and honorary doctorate from Tufts, and Holmes' draft cards from World War II.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. An extensive amount of personal and business material was added to this series, much of it regarding the management of Holmes' works and estate after his death. It also includes personal materials relating to Holmes and his family, such as a sound recording from his birthday. Much of this material was added to box 059 - some was interfiled and some was housed in new folders. Also added to this series were condolence letters received by Doris Holmes after the death of John Holmes. This material is arranged alphabetically and was added to the end of the series in box 070.

  12. Robert Frost collection, 1925 -- 1962

    This series consists of Holmes' collection of Robert Frost materials. Holmes was both a friend of Frost and an admirer of his work, and he actively collected materials relating to Frost's life and work. The dates of the collection material range from 1925 to 1962. The bulk of this collection consists of more than 70 books by Frost, containing work by Frost, or about Frost. Many of these are first editions, some of which are signed and inscribed. The collection also includes a nearly complete run of Frost's holiday cards, which were specially printed editions of his poems. Many of these cards are inscribed to John Holmes. There are several handwritten letters from Frost to Holmes with typewritten transcriptions made by Holmes, and several copies of Frost poems, including a handwritten version of Carpe Diem. Pamphlets and programs of Frost appearances attended by Holmes are also in the collection, including a seating list for Frost's 88th birthday celebration at the White House in 1962. Photographs and a bust of Frost round out the collection.

    A number of items were separated from the Frost collection, most of which were pieces added to the collection by unknown individuals after Holmes' death, or materials which are readily available from other sources. A list of these items follows:

  13. Writings about Holmes, 1927 -- 1983

    This series consists of reviews, articles, and memoirs of Holmes' life and work, and publicity materials about Holmes' books. The date of the material ranges from 1927 to 1983. The series also includes programs of which Holmes was a part, or which mention Holmes.

    Additional material was added to the Holmes collection in June 2009 by Laura Cutter. Articles, book reviews, and publicity materials were interfiled with original material in this series. Some material could not be interfiled and was added to the end of the series in box 070. The bulk of this material is posthumous writings about and tributes to John Holmes by various people and institutions. Also included are complete bibliographies of John Holmes' work.

  14. Family materials, 1813 -- 1976

    This series consists of materials relating to the Holmes family. The materials range in date from 1813 to 1976. Series material includes a scrapbook compiled by Holmes' sister, who attended Jackson College and which contains Tufts memorabilia, as well as family records, and genealogical material. There is one bound volume which contains a typescript copy of Electa Nash's diary (1817-20) and reminiscences of other relatives. This series also includes a handwritten manuscript entitled "Reminiscences of [John Greanleaf] Whittier, by S. S. J." of unknown origin.

View Online Materials

Some of the materials from this collection are available online. Not all materials have necessarily been digitized.