Nancy Luce, the eccentric, tormented, chicken-loving Victorian West Tisbury folk poet, has had a curious afterlife on Martha’s Vineyard. An outcast in her time, living homebound with her bantam hens in a lonely farmhouse, Ms. Luce made a scant living as an Island eccentric, selling booklets of her poetry to the emerging Methodist tourist population.

Now, Ms. Luce’s life is much celebrated on-Island. Her West Tisbury gravestone is richly decorated with chicken statues, and the annual Nancy Luce Day has become a cherished Island tradition. And yet, through all the adulation, little attention has been paid to Ms. Luce’s poetic work.

“There’s no scholarship on her actual writing,” said Susan Johnson, who recently completed a master’s thesis at Northeastern University analyzing the “Hen-Elegies” of Ms. Luce. “There’s a lot about her eccentricity, and as a woman creative entrepreneur, some of it a bit condescending... but she doesn’t get respect as an artist.”

Ms. Johnson’s thesis, entitled Reading Inside the Laments/Hen-Elegies of Nancy Luce: Labor, Obligation, and the Transformative Potential of Writing, in part aims to fill that gap, to read Ms. Luce’s artistic works on their own terms in their first scholarly analysis.

For Ms. Johnson, who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, the thesis is the culmination of a decade of academic study and a lifetime as an Island artist.

Susan Johnson recently finished her master’s thesis on Nancy Luce. — Tim Johnson

“I saw her as this feminine spirit, but also as someone situated in a very specific time and place is dealing with a lot of obstacles, but it still is successful,” she said.

Ms. Johnson began her journey in the visual arts, studying painting at the Pratt Institute before returning to the Island, where she sold her paintings as an early vendor at the Chilmark Flea Market.

“As a creative entrepreneur I definitely felt that kinship with [Nancy Luce],” she said. “That’s what she was doing.”

But Ms. Johnson did not begin her work on Ms. Luce until years later, after around a decade in graduate programs studying philosophy, visual arts and English. A previous project, looking at Monet’s water lily paintings through the lens of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, informed her approach to Ms. Luce.

“Behind something that was so familiar, there’s like all this really interesting stuff that’s still very vital, and still very relevant to our lives,” she said.

Bringing that mode of analysis to the works of Nancy Luce, she said, gave her the opportunity for a more grounded approach. She recalled the moment she decided to write on the poet, on a visit to Ms. Luce’s grave in West Tisbury.

“I went up to the grave and I was like, talking to her,” she said. “And I said, ‘you know, Nancy, I’m gonna do it for you.’ And I did.”

Much of Ms. Johnson’s analysis of the poems looks at them as examples of the lament genre, perhaps best known to Ms. Luce through the biblical book of Psalms. In them, Ms. Luce lists the many pains of her life, from her constant illness to alienation from other townsfolk to the heart wrenching deaths of her beloved pet bantam hens.

In the poem Trouble, for instance, she wrote: “Those folks never come / to sympathize with me in trouble, / and never come to see what they could do for me in sickness... it worried me, & hurt my health / & hurt my senses. They was cruel to me.”

Ms. Jonson noted the rhythm in Ms. Luce’s work, highlighting its transformational nature.

“On the one hand it’s a lot of complaining, but that’s what lamentation is all about . . . . She transformed that darkness into light through the means of her art.”

Elsewhere in the thesis, Ms. Johnson looks Ms. Luce’s potential literary and religious influences, symbols of domestic labor and the role perception in her work. She also discusses the impact the historical moment, a quick transition from a rural, insular Island to a tourist economy, had on Ms. Luce.

“The tourist market switched from a spiritual thing to a monetary thing,” she said. “That’s something very unique to here.”

After receiving her Master’s in English from Northeastern over the summer, Ms. Johnson has returned to the Island, teaching at the high school’s special education program. Her academic background, studying the language, perception and the impacts that

Vineyard life had on one woman, have already come in handy.

“I really like being in education,” she said. “I like the idea of applied theory and going out in the world.... Now I’m really doing it.”