Monday, August 23, 2010

Edgar Lee Masters

There are some people whose eyes glaze over when they hear the word poetry and I am one of them. In high school when the English teacher would assign the class a certain number of poems to read, I knew that my grades would suffer as poetry was something I didn't understand. Iambic pentameter sounded like something from merry old England and what did feet have to do with the words on the page? But, as the years rolled by I began to understand what all those terms meant and soon found some poets out there in the literary world that really opened up my mind to what poetry is all about.

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
~from "The Hill"

One of my favorite books of poems is Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, who was born on this date in 1868. It is an unflattering look at small-town life with the poems being titled for each of its citizens, such as Tom Merritt, Amos Sibley, Carl Hamblin, Fiddler Jones and A.D. Blood. The unique part of this anthology is the dead are the ones telling stories or lies about their life in Spoon River. The words are dark and forceful, breaking down the pretty facades and revealing that what you see is not necessarily what is true. Edgar Lee Masters is thought to have based this book on actual people from the towns of Petersburg and Lewiston, Illinois and needless to say he was not very welcome after the book was published. But, by the time he passed away in 1950, all must have been forgiven, as he was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois. Masters also authored several more books of poetry, plays, biographies and novels that can be ordered through Interlibrary Loan system.

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