If Floridians share a common trait, it is how we promptly forget the past once something
new comes along. Case in point: Vivian Laramore Rader, who was Florida’s Poet Laureate from 1931 till her death
in 1975. Until the last years of her life, she was a teacher, poet, and cultural driving force in Florida. Laramore
Rader not only had literary talent but also the ability to recognize it and nurture it in others. Thirty years after
her death, very few people even recognize her name.
The Laramore-Rader Poetry Group that started meeting
in her house on Wednesday mornings in 1931 continued for 60 years and its spirit lives on in the Hannah Kahn Poetry Foundation. Although rigid in her adherence to traditional rhyme, meter and forms, and wary of the confessional and experimental
poetry of the fifties, she encouraged new talent to grow in the collegial and cooperative environment of her classes.
Born in Saint Louis, Missouri on November
16, 1892, Vivian K. Yeiser was the daughter of William and Carrie Blaine Yeiser. Her father, a native of Rome, Georgia, attended
medical school, but worked as a druggist at Dr. McRae’s Drug Store in Sanford, Florida. After his first wife,
the former Alice Vivian Shearer of New Orleans, died, he married Carrie Blaine, who had moved down to Sanford from Ohio.
It is striking that Carrie Blaine agreed to name Vivian after her husband’s first wife.
spent her early years with her half-brother Charles in the Sanford home of her Blaine grandparents. By 1903 the Yeisers
had opened the Tropical Bottling Company in Jacksonville where Vivian completed her elementary education. It fell to
Hortense Broward, the sister of Florida governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, and a Duval High teacher, to discover Vivian’s
literary talent. In response to Miss Broward’s question in a final exam to define poetry, Vivian answered: “Poetry
is written on the wings of a butterfly,” to which Miss Broward responded: “Child, you can write!” 1
The class of 1910 graduate’s encounter with Miss Broward was a propitious start for the future
Poet Laureate. During her junior and senior years, Vivian Yeiser was the editor of the Oracle,
Duval High School’s literary magazine, where she published her first works titled “Four American Poets”
and “The Marshes of the Saint John’s.”
In her later years, Laramore Rader drew a veil over the next decade of her life.
In 1909, William Yeiser died, and Carrie and Vivian Yeiser had to make their way alone since Charles, William’s son,
was living with his wife and children in Panama where he worked for the canal administration. In April 1912, Vivian
married Robert Eugene Laramore, a traveling salesman, and, like her father, a Rome, Georgia native. By 1918 she had
given birth to and lost two infant sons. Looking for new opportunities, Robert Laramore settled in Miami in 1916 and
became involved with land development and building construction just as the Florida Land Boom got underway. His wife
joined him in 1920, after attending a poetry workshop by future Poetry Pulitzer Prize winner Eleanora Speyer at Columbia University.
Seeking solace for her grief, Vivian
Laramore turned to poetry, publishing “Today” in Leslie’s Weekly
in October 1919. Although seldom correctly attributed, this poem with its promise of new starts is one of her few works
still in print, appearing in the literature of Twelve-step programs:
I’ve closed the door on yesterday
And thrown the key away!
Tomorrow holds no fear for me,
Since I have found today.
Boom Time Miami was just the new start that Vivian Laramore needed. Within the next three years 50 of her poems appeared
in 13 magazines, among them The Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s World and Contemporary Verse. Here’s how she described
her success: “For ten years I wrote about women without children and sold all the poems to women’s magazines.
I’d sit at the typewriter and wipe my eyes as I wrote, and apparently this feeling got across to the people who read
Nevertheless, it was not all sentimentality,
a definite spark of rebellion appears in “The Woman by His Side,” her take on living in Robert Laramore’s
By 1924, with
her first published collection, titled Poems, she found her place in Miami’s
social and cultural scene, befriending such local luminaries as Stella Tuttle, Miami founder Julia Tuttle’s daughter-in-law,
and aviator Glenn Curtiss and his mother, Mrs. Lua Curtiss.
Works by Laramore
Had Sappho Written Sonnets
The Ballad of the Silver Flute 1940
Beggar and the Star 1953
Ode to Life 1967
Six poems by Laramore Rader,
and one by her mother, are in print in Florida in Poetry: A History of the Imagination, ed. by Jane Anderson Jones and Maurice O'Sullivan (Pineapple Press)
Another friend, soon turned collaborator, was the composer Manna
Zucca3. A former child prodigy with an extensive performing career, she had a winter home near the Laramores
in North East Miami. Manna Zucca set music to Vivian Laramore’s “My Florida” and opened the way for
an extensive career as a lyricist that eventually encompassed 30 songs. At least 10 of these song lyrics were written
in collaboration with another musical neighbor, Olive Dungan Pullen4, the wife of Miami businessman, Claude Pullen.
A second collection, Green Acres, was published just as
the Florida Land Boom crashed with the September 1926 Great Miami Hurricane. A growing interest in South Florida’s
tropical environment is evident in poems such as “Mango Tree,” “Bougainvillea” and “To a Red
Hibiscus” and readers gain a rare insight into her early life in “My Mother Was a Dancer.” Ostensibly
about a dead mother (Carrie Blaine was very much alive at the time), the poem is mostly about a dead father who “…
was a scholar/ his hands were thin and white…” and who “…died by choice/ his body washed ashore/
told me that a scholar/ had probed another door” raising questions in the reader’s mind about William Yeiser’s
death at age 50.
As the Florida Land Boom crashed, ending his career, Robert Laramore was diagnosed
with a chronic illness. After the 1929 Stock Market Crash, Vivian Laramore sought ways of making a living from her writing,
gradually becoming the main financial support of the household. By 1930 she had started the Wednesday morning meetings of the Laramore Poetry Group at her home on North East 35th Street.
One of the first speakers invited to address the group was
naturalist and writer, Charles Torrey Simpson5, a North East Miami neighbor who lived on
a nine acre tropical preserve just 30 blocks up the newly finished Biscayne Boulevard. Mr. Simpson
had been instrumental in discovering and promoting South Florida’s tropical environment and his private preserve was Miami’s first Botanical Garden.
is evident in Flamingo, Laramore’s next book of poems, published in 1932.
She celebrates Florida as home, a place that includes mangroves and the Tamiami Trail crossing the Everglades, a refreshing
response to outsiders’ take on the peninsula as either an exotic locale or one lacking in poetic qualities. This
collection also includes “On Having and Had,” ostensibly about a woman who has lost a son in France during World
War I; it gives a voice to her own loss.
Becoming Poet Laureate
In the spring of 1931, Franklin N. Wood, Florida’s first Poet Laureate. died, and it fell to Florida
Governor Doyle E. Carlton to appoint a replacement. How Mrs. Laramore was selected is the subject of on-going research,
but on October 13, 1931 she received the official notice.
This official recognition gave her career
an important boost and by December 1931 she had started publishing every Sunday in the Miami
Daily News her column Miami Muse, where she featured the work of 780 local
or visiting poets over the next 15 years. A preliminary look at the index of authors in the anthologies she published between
1932 and 1941 finds Robert Frost, Chilean Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral and Du Bose Hayward, author of Porgy and Bess. It is also remarkable that at a time when even Miami’s telephone directories were
racially segregated, these anthologies included the work of African-American poets such as Alpheus Butler.
In 1936 Robert Laramore
died after a ten-year chronic illness. Freed from tending an invalid, the widowed
Vivian Laramore accepted the offer from Rollins College Vice-President Dr. Grover
to conduct a poetry class at their summer school in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. This in turn led to an invitation
from Evelyn Grace Haynes in 1939 to teach at the Huckleberry Mountain Artist’s Colony outside
Hendersonville, North Carolina, modeled on the Mac Dowell Colony in Peterboro,
New Hampshire.6 She returned every summer until 1955.
During this decade of professional success and personal pain she met Hannah Kahn, a life-long friend
and most distinguished student, who named her daughter after the Poet Laureate. Hannah Kahn had a successful career as a much
published poet, mother of 3 children and an interior designer, before becoming the Miami
Herald’s Poetry Editor in the early 1950’s. Her son, Judge Dan Kahn7, recalls fondly his mother’s
friendship with the Poet Laureate, confirming the image left in numerous published interviews and thumbnail sketches of a
warm, gracious lady.
In her 1939 book, Had Sappho Written Sonnets,
while Laramore‘s focus returns to poetic form, she celebrates her Florida roots in the joys of
Christmas in a warm climate, “Beneath a Southern Sky.” Later set to music by Composer Gladys Rich8 it enjoyed success as the first “Southern Carol.” She further explored this religious
Christmas theme in her book length poem The Beggar and the Star (1949), while The Ballad of the Silver Flute
(1940) is a tribute to Sidney Lanier.
In Miami, she met Paul C. Rader, a civil engineer from a prominent Miami family,
who became her second husband in 1946. They married at Huckleberry Mountain, with a later reception in Miami.
In 1949 the Raders built a delightful ranch house oriented to catch the prevailing south east breezes in Miami’s Shorecrest neighborhood. They planted a Poinciana so she could see it from the living
room window. “There, with the windows open to let in bird song and flower smells, Laramore Rader
taught 15 students until a few years before she died in 1975.”9 During the next 20 years, she published
two additional books: Poinciana Poems
in 1953, a beautifully crafted collection of 22 of her Poinciana poems and Ode to Life
in 1967, her final collection of 85 new and selected poems. In the sixties she taught classes
in poetry writing at Barry College and along with Hannah Kahn and Jordan Davidson organized Annual Poetry Competition Festivals
in Downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.
In her final years, Frank Fitzgerald-Bush, a distant cousin
of the Curtiss family who had known Laramore Rader as a child, became her devoted student and confidant. Together they published
a textbook of Laramore Rader’s poetry writing techniques stressing the importance of traditional rhyme, meter and poetic
forms. This approach was at odds with prevailing tastes in the world of poetry, and Laramore Rader’s work was
dismissed as old fashioned. By the early 70’s both Paul and Vivian Laramore Rader had become incapacitated and
Earle Rader, Paul’s brother, became their legal guardian.
After Laramore Rader’s death
in 1975, Mr. Fitzgerald-Bush continued the Laramore Rader Poetry Group, holding regular workshops at the Brockway Memorial
Library in Miami Shores, where Peter Driben’s10 portrait of the Poet Laureate is on display, and publishing
annual anthologies for several years. In 1991, faced with declining membership and Mr. Fitzgerald-Bush’s health problems,
the group disbanded.
The house the Raders built still stands at 8260 East Dixie Highway. The white wicker chairs and her blue Persian
cat, Bonnie Blue, are long gone, as well as the many shrubs and flowers that Mrs. Rader loved, but the house is still surrounded
by mangoes, oaks, and Poincianas, a tree she celebrated in 54 poems.
With the recently completed
reconstruction of Biscayne Boulevard (U.S.1) a renaissance of North East Miami’s neighborhoods is underway. Portions
of Shorecrest and Biscayne Boulevard have been designated historic districts and various civic and neighborhood groups, among
them the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Association, are working with local government to make the area an exciting cultural destination with many new restaurants and shops.
Yet few who live here know anything about the woman who was Poet Laureate.
The time has come to
re-evaluate Vivian Laramore Rader’s legacy. She attained, and kept for 44 years, a high-visibility honorary state
government position at a time when few women had such opportunities. She pioneered teaching poetry writing techniques
and validated the use of Florida’s tropical imagery as something more than exotic color. Well into her 70’s
she was still the driving force behind Miami’s annual Poetry Festivals.
In 2006, the University
of Florida’s Subtropics Magazine published three of Mrs. Rader’s poems, and Marianne Kunkel of Gainesville is working on a projected anthology of her
writing. Her neighbors in North East Miami are trying to preserve her legacy. It is the intent of this article
to ensure the second look gets underway.
forty-seven year resident of North East Miami, Antolín García Carbonell, a registered architect with professional
degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Miami spent 30 years managing design and construction projects
for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. In 2002, while researching historical structures at Opa-locka Airport he became fascinated
with aviator Glenn Curtiss. Further research on Curtiss uncovered the aviator’s friendship with the Poet Laureate and
the discovery that a certain house on East Dixie Highway that reminded a newly arrived Cuban refugee family of their lost
home in Havana was the residence of Vivian Laramore Rader. A shared passion for Poincianas made this article inevitable.
(top to bottom)
-Peter Driben Portrait of Vivian Laramore Rader, Brockway Memorial Library
-Vivian Laramore Rader, 1948, Miami News Collection of the Historical Museum of South
-Vivian Rader at Library Stairs circa 1952, Miami Dade Public Library. Photo attributed to Helga Eason.
-The Beggar and the Star cover
-Rader house, May 2007. Photo, Antolin Garcia
1 Foreword to Ode
to Life Hurricane House Publishers, Inc. Miami, Florida
2 Miami Herald, March 25,
1966 interview with Charles Whited
3 Mana-Zucca Cassel (1891-1981) , the former Augusta Zuckerman,
was a child prodigy who composed two operas, a ballet, several orchestral works, chamber music and a collection of 366 piano
pieces called “My Musical Calendar”. She was married to Irwin M. Cassel and was a winter resident of Miami since
the 1920’s. New York Times Obituary March 11, 1981.
Olive Dungan (Pullen) (1904-1997) was a composer of piano and vocal works, mostly on religious themes.
Charles Torrey Simpson (1846-1932), shell specialist and naturalist, known for his documentation of the South Florida tropical
environment. Author of the influential 1926 book, Ornamental Gardening in Florida,
he moved to Miami in 1903 and was an early advocate for the creation of Everglades National Park.
Preserving the “Peterboro of the South”: Huckleberry Mountain Workshop Camp and Artists’ Colony by RoAnn
M. Bishop, Carolina Comments, Volume 54, No. 1, January 2006
7 Conversation between author and Judge Kahn,
8 Gladys Rich (1904-1994) American composer best known for her “American Lullaby”
published in 1932.
9 Miami Herald, February 22,1979 interview
with Frank Fitzgerald-Bush
10 Peter Driben (1903-1968) American Painter who created publicity
artwork for the movie The Maltese Falcon but is best known for his prolific production
between the 1930’s and 1950’s of pin-up girl artwork for men’s magazines. After moving to Miami in 1958
he painted portraits of numerous local public figures including Miami Mayor, Robert King High.