Reader Mike Wegner asked for more information on Robert Lord.
Wegner explained that Lord was “the somewhat outlandish 'poet' who had a column in the American-Statesman back in the late 1960s and early '70s. I've never been able to find out more about him, what became of him or his column. Google has not turned up anything.”
Several of our experts on Austin during that period drew blanks, or they wondered whether “Robert Lord” was really a nom de plume, which would make him even harder to trace.
Reading some of his poetry in the archives, it is pretty outlandish, and, in this writer's opinion, not very good. Lord called his column “The Searcher,” and it appeared Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He welcomed guest poets, including high school students.
His columns ran with this note: “For extra copies of this poem or others send $1 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Robert Lord in care of Professional Arts, Inc. 308 W. 15th St.” Whatever building was there then, it is now buried under the William Clements Jr. State Office Building tower.
It quickly became clear that Lord was a cultural legacy from a time when readers contributed a fair amount of copy to the newspaper and even oversaw its flow, becoming “editors” of certain columns.
At the same time, other readers regularly mocked their efforts. In at least one article, even the newspaper seemed to distance itself from the enthusiastic excesses that such reader-columnists indulged.
Mike Cox, who worked as a reporter on the Statesman staff from 1965 to 1967 and again from 1970 to 1985, did not remember Robert Lord, but he provided some sharp insights into the journalistic times.
“I can say with a high degree of certainty that he was not actually on the staff,” Cox wrote. “My guess would be that he sent poetry in and the paper published it, a last vestige of the real old days when newspapers did regularly run poetry from their readers — mostly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, at least for Texas. I can't imagine that the Statesman paid him anything, but that's just theory based on my memory of how tight management always was.”
Glen Castlebury, who served in various Statesman newsroom roles from 1958 to 1972, confirmed that any poetry would have come from a reader, not a reporter.
“The bottom line was that Robert Lord did not work for the American-Statesman,” Castlebury wrote. “The ‘Poetry Column’ was only one of many space-filler columns the newspaper devoted to citizen contributors, and the best presumption is that Lord was just a guy who liked poetry but was pedestrian at it at best himself.”
Castlebury said that Lord might have been one of many outsiders to "oversee" such a column, or he might have just been one of the contributors. Either way, he said, the column was sometimes met with derision from the public.
Searching the archives, we found an unsigned article about Lord, dated Dec. 20, 1970.
“Robert Lord, one of Austin’s more interesting new arrivals, is a big man who exudes a remarkable measure of enthusiasm about a remarkable number of things,” the article begins. “When he isn’t striving to be a modern Renaissance man, Lord has already succeeded at more undertakings than most men even dream trying. He’s a poet, sculptor, writer, philosopher and minister, not to mention world traveler, music aficionado, health-food buff and an admirer of lovely sunsets.”
The reporter goes on to note that Lord “will be supplying some of his vast store of poetry in these newspapers daily and Sundays.”
Lord told the article's author that he was born in the state of New York, with Texan ancestors, and that he had studied philosophy at Harvard University, sculpture with American avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko and painting with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He also said he learned art at UCLA, Harvard, Boston School of Fine Arts and the Louvre in Paris. Somehow he was also ordained as a minister at the Boston School of Fine Arts. Lord said he had written two novels, two plays, several short stories and approximately 7,000 poems — all ready for publication.
The article includes images by staff photographer Jack Wolf of Lord posed with a roughly modern piece of sculpture that Lord titled “Texan,” which according to a later article was exhibited at the state Capitol.
Could Lord have possibly done all these things and still remain unknown outside of his weekly poetry contributions and this one short newspaper profile, which, reading between the lines, could suggest an exaggerated resume? Who, in fact, was Lord? Perhaps our current readers can help solve the puzzle of this distinctive Austin personality from 50 years ago.
Once all this research was shared with Wegner, the reader with the original query, he said that Lord was indeed an object of derision at the time.
“This was idle curiosity on my part, triggered by a memory from when I was a UT student in the early '70s,” Wegner said. “I remember in my English Lit courses that we eagerly awaited his weekly column and then mercilessly mocked his effort. He was probably a nice old gentleman who labored diligently over his rhymes and meters, and we were snooty UT students."
Wegner said that, all these years later, he feels bad about making such fun of Lord, even if his poems were "laughably bad."
"May Mr. Lord rest in peace, wherever he may be."