A Poet in the Family

Most of the books that were in our house when I was growing up seem to have ended up at my father’s mountain retreat. I was there (via snowshoes!) earlier this month, and came upon a book that I had not seen in a number of years. I remember seeing this book as a child and thinking that we had a famous author in the family.

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The book was published by Vantage Press, New York, in 1956. Vantage, founded in 1949, was described as the largest vanity press in the U.S., until they went out of business in 2012.[1], [2] A vanity press is “a printing house that specializes in publishing books for which the authors pay all or most of the cost.”[3] So, maybe the author wasn’t famous, but I still think it’s pretty neat that one of my relatives published a book of poetry.

At the time, I didn’t realize that she was my great aunt, Alice “Belle” (Fryar, 1903–1986) Casbon.  In researching this post, I wanted more details, so I contacted Belle’s son, Dave (my 1st cousin, once removed), to see what he remembered about it. Dave was a teenager when the book came out. He says he remembers it well. “She did most of the promoting herself with help of friend Mrs. Carroll Sievers,” recalls Dave. She arranged appearances with women’s groups; Mrs Sievers would recite the poems, and slides taken by a friend and amateur photographer would be shown as illustrations. Here are a couple of news articles I found about her book promotion events.[4], [5]

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Dave believes that she sold 1000–1200 copies of the book (at $2.00 each), “which wasn’t all that bad for poetry in the 50s.” Belle made the front page of the local newspaper when the book came out.[6] It must have been quite a moment for her!

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Here are a couple of the poems from the book:

MOUNTAINS[7]
I view
Mountains lofty,
And myriad of hue;
Misty purple summits
Of hope,
A golden slope
Of courage,
And the good green earth
Of faith.
What grandeur
The days bring,
When I can
See at any time
The royal colors
Of a king.

SYMPHONY[8]
Life is a symphony,
Music written by a Master.
Learn to play it skillfully
Each day;
Let no harsh dissonance
Mar the exquisite melody;
Play a gay tune, a sweet tune,
Play a happy roundelay.
If you take the high notes
Or the low notes,
Strike the chords tenderly
Every day

 The inside flap (probably written by the publisher) describes the book in this way.

Here is a poet who truly sees life as a symphony-“music written by a Master.” For Alice B. Casbon’s ear is attuned to the hush at dawn, the melody of bird voices, the rustle of trees, the whisper of the wind, and the lovely organ notes of faith. Loved familiar topics: company for dinner, a violet’s winsome appeal, Autumn’s blaze of color, Christmas lights, a daughter’s graduation—all are sung with a lilt, a gentle, pleasing, heart-whole warmth, and with bright-hued imagery. These little poems express the author’s inmost thoughts: a very real faith in God as Comforter, as Guide, whose “Lo, I am with you always,” attests to His ever-present love; reflections upon country, home, family, friends; upon the beauty and wonder of nature-and an abiding gratitude for all. So Much of Beauty will bring you a new awareness, a new joy in simple, ordinary things. With Mrs. Casbon you will agree that “there’s good all around us, if we just think that way.”

Belle was born as Alice Belle Fryar, 1903, in Wanatah, Indiana, to Robert Dallas and Belvia (Carpenter) Fryar.[9] She received a two-year teaching degree from Valparaiso University in 1921 or 1922 and then taught school in Wanatah until her marriage to Lynnet Casbon in 1934.[10] Lynnet (1899–1983) was the youngest son of my great-grandfather, Lawrence L. (1865–1950) and Kate (Marquardt, 1868–1959) Casbon.

According to Dave, this was the only book she published. Now it is a treasured item that gives us an insight into her outlook on life. I’ll close this salute to Belle with her photo from the back cover of the book.

[1] Edwin McDowell, “More Authors Turn to Vanity Presses,” New York Times, 26 May 1982; html edition (http://www.nytimes.com/1982/05/26/garden/more-authors-turn-to-vanity-presses.html : accessed 11 February 2018).
[2] Jim Milliot, “Vantage Press Closes,” Publishers Weekly, 19 Dec 2012; html edition (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/financial-reporting/article/55199-vantage-press-closes.html : accessed 11 February 2018).
[3] “vanity press,” n.d., Dictionary.com Unabridged (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/vanity-press : accessed 13 February 2018).
[4] “Author of Poetry Book Addresses C.H.I. Club,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 19 Aug 1957, p. 3, col. 5; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: accessed 11 February 2018).
[5] “Local Poetess to Have Radio Interview,” The Vidette-Messenger, 20 Nov 1956; Newspaper Archive (accessed 11 February 2018).
[6] Betsy MacFie, “Book of Poetry Will Be Published in Week,” The Vidette-Messenger, 12 October 1956, p. 1, col. 4; Newspaper Archive (accessed 11 February 2018).
[7] Alice B Casbon, so much of beauty (New York: Vantage Press, 1956), p. 40.
[8] Casbon, so much of beauty, p. 47.
[9] Indiana, Department of Health, death certificate no. 86-815427, Alice Belle Casbon, 30 Apr 1986, Valparaiso, Porter County; imaged as ” Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/60716/44494_351920-00433 : accessed 11 February 2018); citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, death certificates, 1986, microfilm roll 06.
[10] Personal communication, email from Dave Casbon [e-address for private use], 6 Feb 18, to Jon Casbon [e-address for private use].

2 thoughts on “A Poet in the Family”

  1. I loved everything about this post!! Belle did an exceptionally good job of promoting her self-published book. What I found particularly striking about the story is how closely it parallels that of today’s “indie authors,” who self-publish without the vanity press stigma there once was. I found “Symphony” compellingly aspirational. Thanks for picking that one to share.

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