Depression Days

Carrie Circosta

Retired professor’s poetry book describes life on a farm during Great Depression

A young woman with more than one boyfriend became pregnant. Her father picked one of the boyfriends to marry her. He grabbed a preacher to perform the wedding and the parents of Robert Tener, a now retired English professor from Kent State, to act as witnesses. A couple months after the wedding, the baby was stillborn.

This is just one story told in Tener’s recently published book of poetry, Depression Days on an Appalachian Farm, which is compiled of poetry he wrote over a period of 10 years.

“I wrote (the poems) out of respect for my parents,” Tener said. “I didn’t want to forget where I grew up and my connection with the land. The story about the ‘Shotgun Wedding’ actually happened, and it affected me greatly.”

The poems in Tener’s book are set between the years of 1930 and 1938, a period during the Great Depression.

“The only way my parents could live was to grow food on the land,” he said. “I wanted to show what it was like to grow up on a farm and during the Depression.”

Tener said because life is easier for middle-class people today, college students might not be able to relate to his poetry unless they grew up on a farm. However, it could definitely give students an idea of what it was like growing up during the Depression.

He also said if a student has a love for poetry, he or she would like to read it.

“If you like words, you’ll like poetry,” Tener said. “Poets like finding words to describe how they feel.”

One of Tener’s favorite poems from his book is “The Chestnut Tree.”

“I was free from all my chores on a Saturday; I didn’t have to play hooky or anything,” Tener said, laughing. “I was able to go out with my dog and horse, and I wrote about nature.”

From the little feedback he has received, Tener said it has been motivating.

“My brother called me and said it made him cry,” Tener said. “A professor from Kent State wrote me a nice letter and complimented on three of my poems. A student of mine from the 1980s called and said she would get the book.”

Tener has also been involved with the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State.

“Poetry should be a part of the English department,” he said. “The point of the Wick Poetry Program is that you just have to like poetry . it doesn’t have to be good poetry. It also encourages students to come to Kent State and to help freshmen.”

Maggie Anderson, director of the Wick Poetry Center, said members of the program only read poetry picked out by the Wick brothers when the program was founded. But that’s not going to hold her back from letting students read Tener’s new book.

“I’ve talked about having a poetry reading after the first of the year,” Anderson said. “I’ll probably make sure the bookstore will carry it and have Robert come in to talk to some classes.”

Contact features correspondent Carrie Circosta at [email protected].