Evans, Abbie Huston
EVANS, Abbie Huston
Born 20 December 1881, Lee, New Hampshire; died October 1983
Daughter of Lewis D. and Hester Huston Evans
Abbie Huston Evans grew up in Maine where she learned to love nature. The sparse but tenacious vegetation of the Maine mountains and seacoast was to form the principal subject of her poetry. Evans' father, who had been a coal miner in Wales as a boy, was a congregational minister in Camden where Evans taught Sunday school. Among her pupils was Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay (whose poetry was known earlier and more widely) wrote in the foreword to Evans' first volume, Outcrop (1928): "These are the poems of one more deeply and more constantly aware than most people are, of the many voices and faces of lively nature.… In reading them, you will find yourself stock-still before some object with which you have rubbed elbows all your life but which you have never truly seen until that moment."
Evans received her B.A. (1913, Phi Beta Kappa) and M.A. (1918) from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was a social worker in a Colorado mining camp during World War I, and later taught dancing, art, and dramatics at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia (1923-53), and College Settlement Farm-Camp in Horsham, Pennsylvania (1953-57).
Like the tenacious, slow-growing junipers Evans celebrated, her output has been small and slow, yet her talent is substantial and enduring. Author of a total of four widely spaced volumes of poetry, Evans received many awards and honors such as the Guarantor's Prize (Poetry, Chicago) in 1931, the Loines Memorial Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1960, and the New England Poetry Club Golden Rose Award in 1965. She received an honorary Litt.D. from Bowdoin College, Maine, in 1961, and she served as a member of the Advisory Board of Contemporary Poetry from 1940 onward. Her poems appeared in the Nation and the New Yorker, and were recorded for the Library of Congress in 1964.
Celebrating craggy hills, storms, the seasons, rocks, icebergs, and even dinosaurs, Evans' poems share the hard, austere beauty of the subjects they evoke. "The Mineral Collection" flashes with color; even the flinty rocks are part of the living earth. Evans wrote in a spare, alliterative style. In her Collected Poems (1970), Evans, at age ninety, was still exploring new facets of natural science, such as the Martian landscape. She rejoiced in the sheer pleasure of sensory experience and of life itself:
This is what it is
To be alive;.…
No edge but is lit, no cobble but glows.
Wakings beset; wherever I turn
Flarings play close within reach of my hand.
The Bright North (1938). The Poems of Jean Batchelor (edited by Evans and F. S. Esdall, 1947). Fact of Crystal (1961). Abbie Huston Evans Reading Her Poems in the Recording Laboratory (audio recording, 1964).
Brandon, G., Quintet: Essays on Five American Women Poets (1967). Saul, G. B., Quintet: Essays on Five American Women Poets (1967).
CA (1976). Contemporary Poets (1975).
—KAREN F. STEIN