How, as a poet, I didn’t know about Spoon River Anthology is beyond me. I just recently found out about the marvelous poems of Edgar Lee Masters by chance as I was listening to a back issue of Poetry Off the Shelf. It had been 100 years since it had first been published, and the book, despite being somewhat dated in stories, has never gone out of print. Now talk about staying power.
I fell in love with the tragic poems recited in the podcast, but it was once I started reading them that it really became the good stuff. Sitting down and flipping through the Kindle version ( I now know I must get a hardback copy) I felt my heart start to race and the just utter shock at the stories hit me like I was reading a gossip column about the trials of all of Hollywood. I sit there and I want to share this titillating story with my mother. “Did you hear?” is running through the back of my head as I read one more snippet of scandal. The horrors, humor, and tragedy just make my heart start to pound and I am flipping the next page (the crackle of a newspaper is nearly at hand!) and I’m on to the next salacious story.
Back when my mother was in Jr. High, (I believe) my aunt did a skit of sorts reading three poems from Spoon River. Lucinda Matlock, Yee Bow, and Elsa Wertman were those recited. Years later, meaning just a few weeks ago, I was telling my mother all about finding Spoon River Anthology and falling in love with it, and her first thing she said to me was, “Why does that sound so familiar?” I explained the premise and boom, she was back remembering hearing her sister recite the poems. After I downloaded the ebook, she flipped through it, page after page and found those three poems and said those were the ones she remembered here. Boom, and email from my aunt confirmed it. Clearly the poems have such staying power as to stick in the head of a 14 year old girl, who is now much older.
I can totally understand the appeal of such poems, done in such a loose, informal way, that there is no actual meter or rhyming scheme, because the stories themselves talk of life in such a way that you can relate, even if the poems and situations were written one hundred plus years ago. There is till rape, racism, hate, greed, sloth, longing, adultery, pure love, long lasting love, commitment, abortion, murder…… All of our sins are spilled out for us to ooh and ahh over, with no thought that we are just like them. Written in such a way that you eagerly turn to the next story.
I think every high school drama class should perform a rendition of Spoon River Anthology. Take and mix it up with each class. Heck, I would do it in a heartbeat. If I could stand out there and recite a story that has such meaning and emotion embodied in so few words. Heartbreaking and entertaining, I highly recommend Spoon River Anthology for anyone interested in learning about poetry and having it almost completely understandable. And if you enjoy People magazine, well even better. The gossip rags have nothing on Spoon River’s drama.
If you are looking for a free copy, Project Gutenberg has one, as the copy write is out of date, but personally while I downloaded that one, I like the Kindle Dover Thrift Edition.