“This is the world, the kingdom I was looking for.” These words, written by poet John Holmes (A ’29), Tufts professor and alumnus, live on in Tufts memory, despite the passing of the poet himself. Now, however, Tufts students will be able to pay their respects at Holmes’ grave. Walter Skold, founder of the Dead Poets Society of America, re-discovered the poet’s burial site on Sept. 24. Skold has been visiting and documenting the graves of American poets across the country; Holmes’ grave is officially the 402nd grave he has visited since he founded the organization in 2009.
Skold explained that he began the project to document the variety and uniqueness of American poets’ graves around the East Coast as a form of commemoration.
“Since I was a photographer and poet, I just thought no one else was really documenting this to the extent I wanted to, so I just began to follow that and, like sometimes happens, it can turn into sort of a passion,” he said.
According to Skold, his original goal was to just cover poets’ graves in the Northeast, but later expanded to focus on poets in all parts of the United States. He said that his search for Holmes came about in part through his connection to Tufts through his son, Charles Skold (LA ’11), who was a student at Tufts.
When he began his search for Holmes’ grave, Skold initially reached out to former director of the Digital Collections and Archives Anne Sauer (LA ’91, G ’98) in 2012, but she said they did not know where he was buried.
“[Sauer] didn’t know, and he promised her he’d come back and let her know when he found the grave,” Tisch Library Administrative Assistant Harriet Chenkin explained, noting that Skold reached out to her last week after his discovery, because she helps coordinate the annual John Holmes Memorial Poetry Reading in April.
“There was no information anywhere, not even in Tufts, and they have his archives,” Skold said.
He added that Sauer told him that there were many people on campus who still remember him and his legacy at Tufts.
Skold explained that he decided to pursue his own search for the grave and first went to the funeral home in Medford that Holmes had gone through. He was then sent to Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford, where he was given a map from the cemetery’s records of the grave’s precise location.
“We weren’t sure we found it last week, Charles and I, because there was no gravestone there,” he said. “But we recounted, and it turned out that was the space we were told it was.”
Skold explained that he was very surprised not to find any sort of tombstone for Holmes’ grave.
“That’s only the third poet’s grave I’ve encountered without a tombstone,” he said.
Skold added that he and his son found a piece of quartz rock and wrote down Holmes’ name, dates of his life and profession to mark the grave.
“I think it’d kind of be cool if finding his grave eventually led to him having a bigger tombstone to honor his place in American literature,” he noted.
In 2010, Skold introduced the Dead Poets Remembrance Day, a holiday which commemorates the life and work of American poets across the country. Following the recent discovery of the grave, the Dead Poets Remembrance Day celebration in Massachusetts will be held at Holmes’ grave in Medford on Oct. 7 at 5:30p.m. The event will feature public readings of poems by six poets who are related to Tufts: Holmes, Anne Sexton, Jane Turell, John Ciardi, Deborah Digges and Maxine Kumin.
“It’s the idea that going to poets’ graves and having readings is a way to commemorate what they meant to our literary culture and our history,” Skold said.
He explained that the origin of the event in 2010 went back to a six week trip he took to 20 different states during which he interviewed 13 different state Poet Laureates.
“We were thinking … ‘Why isn’t there some kind of celebration of our poets?'” he said.
The inaugural event that year met with success, according to Skold.
“There was enough positive feedback to just continue to try and spread this idea every year, and this year we have events in eight different states, so I’m pretty excited about that,” he said.
The event generally takes place around Oct. 7, given that this is the date of poet Edgar Allan Poe’s death and the birthday of poet James Whitcomb Riley, as well as not far from Dia de los Muertos, All Saints’ Day and Halloween, all of which celebrate life after death.
Skold said that from here he will continue work on a documentary film and a book about his journeys.
“It’s a great project that he’s doing, and the documentary I’m sure will be fascinating,” Chenkin said.