Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary


Holmes, John A., 1904-1962


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 the 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 among 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 others' 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 daughter, Margaret Nash Holmes. Holmes died June 22, 1962 following a long illness in Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Following Holmes' death, his papers including manuscripts of almost 1,000 poems were given to the University Archives.

Source: History from the biographical sketch of the John A. Holmes Collection, MS007.

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