Friday, August 26, 2011

Forgotten Books: Spoon River Anthology -- Edgar Lee Masters

Maybe this book isn't really forgotten, but I have a feeling not many people read it these days. It was a sensation when it was originally published, though. Masters had written many books before this one, and he wrote even more afterward, but none had the same effect.

When I was in high school, I thought I'd write poetry all my life. I read all kinds of poetry and loved 99% of it, including the poems by Masters that were in our high school textbook. I checked Spoon River out of the library and read all of it. I was highly impressed, but I'd never looked at it since then. I picked up a copy the other day at a library sale and started to read. It was like visiting old friends, though none of them is alive. Lucinda Matlock, Hod Putt, Judge Somers, Benjamin Pantier (buried with his dog), Anne Rutledge, and so many others, "all, all, are sleeping on the hill," as they have been all my life, but they're still as eloquent as ever. Small-town life hadn't been depicted like this before, and if Masters never had another success like this one, he doesn't have to worry about winding up like his character John Horace Burleson. Masters wrote one mighty book that works as well for me today as it did more than 50 years ago.

9 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved this book. Thanks for reminding me.

George said...

Spoon River Anthology used to be a staple of high school English courses. Now, they're probably teaching the TWILIGHT series.

Bill Peschel said...

I remember reading this. There was a sequel, but it didn't do as well.

John said...

I think this is way too old fashioned for English classes these days. A stage adaptation makes the rounds of community theaters a lot. There was an innovative and passionate production here in Chicago about ten years ago. So Masters words still have resonance.

George - God help us if TWILIGHT becomes standard issue in the classroom.

Bud said...

My sainted old high school English Lit. teacher couldn't get me to read it, but since you like it, I'll give it a try!

Dan_Luft said...

This book makes a nice companion to WINESBURG, OHIO. I had to read them both for high school in the early 80s.

Richard R. said...

I first read it in high school, read it again (along with OUR TOWN and WINESBURG, OHIO) on my own when I was about 26, 27 and haven't read it since. After searching my catalog, I no longer have a copy, but am rectifying that! Thanks, Bill.

Todd Mason said...

Some of the poems are better than others...or maybe (no!) I'm just touchy, as "The Village Atheist" always gets my dander up.

WINESBURG, OHIO is similarly in and out for me, but at least Anderson doesn't club quite as blatantly...

George said...

John, don't underestimate the push at most high schools to be "relevant" to the students. I had to go to war with the English Department when my son was in middle school because they wanted to drop CALL OF THE WILD for some contemporary young adult novel. I had to go to some meetings and argue my case. And CALL OF THE WILD stayed one of the literature books, but I'm sure it was dropped after my son moved on to High School.