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Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950)

Author of Spoon River Anthology

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About the Author

Edgar Lee Masters, 1868 - 1950 The Kansas-born poet of "Spoon River Anthology" (written in 1915), Edgar Lee Masters, wrote almost 50 volumes but continues to be known for only that one, so great was its extraordinary success. Masters was born on August 23, 1868. His characters created for the show more verses (which are short postmortem monologues in epitaph form) were borrowed from the old Greek Anthology. By invading the realm of social criticism usually reserved for prose fiction, "Spoon River" anticipated the mood of Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" and Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street." Masters lived near Spoon River for 11 years; it was his source of inspiration for this work. The 244 characters in the Anthology lay bare, in their own epitaphs, the hypocrisies, jealousies, frustrations and infrequent triumphs of their lives. Masters is often regarded as the last bestselling American poet. "Spoon River" has been adapted into a popular stage version that is frequently performed at colleges, high schools, and community theater. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Works by Edgar Lee Masters

Spoon River Anthology (1914) 3,388 copies
The New Spoon River (1924) 130 copies
Lincoln the Man (1997) 42 copies
The Sangamon (1942) 32 copies
Domesday Book (2009) 10 copies
Songs and Satires (2007) 8 copies
Toward the Gulf (2007) 7 copies
Whitman (1937) 6 copies
The tale of Chicago (1933) 6 copies
Mark Twain a Portrait (1938) 5 copies
Starved rock (2008) 5 copies
Mitch Miller (2011) 5 copies
I bambini del mercato (2021) 2 copies
Lee: A Dramatic Poem (1926) 2 copies
Masters 2 copies
Kit O'Brien (1927) 2 copies
Invisible landscapes (1935) 2 copies
Selected poems 2 copies
The great valley (2007) 2 copies
Along the Illinois (1989) 1 copy
Illinois poems (1989) 1 copy
Poesie 1 copy
Lichee Nuts 1 copy
More people 1 copy
The open Sea (2016) 1 copy
George Gray 1 copy

Associated Works

One Hundred and One Famous Poems (1916) — Contributor, some editions — 1,879 copies
A Pocket Book of Modern Verse (1954) — Contributor, some editions — 435 copies
A Comprehensive Anthology of American Poetry (1929) — Contributor — 127 copies
The Standard Book of British and American Verse (1932) — Contributor — 110 copies
A Quarto of Modern Literature (1935) — Contributor — 38 copies
60 Years of American Poetry (1996) — Contributor — 28 copies
American Poems 1779-1900 (1922) — Contributor — 11 copies


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Common Knowledge



Spoon River Anthology in George Macy devotees (August 10)


Spoon River Anthology is more than the sum of its parts. The dead comment and complain about their neighbors; the graveyard is a community of gossipy cross-references. The best poems play off other poems: one set of poems includes a young woman, her father, her doctor, the doctor's wife, and (finally) the woman's rapist -- and it's only after reading all of these poems that the reader realizes the oblique subject (a botched abortion) that all the speakers have skirted around.

Figuring out the connections between the various inhabitants of Spoon River is fun, but there are a lot of poems and the whole thing eventually becomes numbing. Masters doesn't help matters by including two long poetic codas at the end of the Anthology to reiterate his none-too-subtle points.… (more)
proustbot | 38 other reviews | Jun 19, 2023 |
The [b:Spoon River Anthology|10974854|Spoon River Anthology|Edgar Lee Masters|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1328325031l/10974854._SY75_.jpg|283960] is yet another of those books I last read in High School which came back up when I decided to branch out and read some more poetry. In this case, it was actually a whole production where each person in the class would memorize a different poem and then we made a platform in the woods, dressed up, and recited them. Pretty cool actually.


Perry Zoll
MY thanks, friends of the County Scientific Association,
For this modest boulder,
And its little tablet of bronze.
Twice I tried to join your honored body,
And was rejected,
And when my little brochure
On the intelligence of plants
Began to attract attention
You almost voted me in.
After that I grew beyond the need of you
And your recognition.
Yet I do not reject your memorial stone,
Seeing that I should, in so doing,
Deprive you of honor to yourselves.

The actual poems are hit or miss. Some are every bit as creepy as expected from a book chock full of epitaphs for an entire town. Some are amusing, particularly when you get several points of view of the same event in a row. Some are haunting and sad. Some are ... really just hit or miss.

My particular favorites (you can read them all online, one source):

* Amanda Barker - a town that sees love, a death born of hatred
* Judge Somers - fancy pants language don't matter much when you're dead
* Trainor, the Druggist - life in terms of chemistry analogies
* Knowlt Hoheimer - a soldier, wondering what it really means to be a patriot
* Lydia Puckett - related to Hoheimer, behind every soldier is a woman
* Frank Drummer - cannot find his words, so tried to memorize the Encyclopedia
* Margaret Fuller Slack - raised a family instead of a novel, "sex is the curse of life"
* Deacon Taylor - a church going man who died of cirrhosis of the liver
* Cooney Potter - worked hard in life and died before he could enjoy it
* George Gray - afraid to take a chance on life
* Franklin Jones - if only I had another year
* Albert Schirding - outdone by his children
* Elsa Wertman - gave up a child out of wedlock who never known, but she was proud
* Roger Heston - contemplate free will and cows, get gored to death
* Mrs. Sibley - SCIENCE!
* Walter Simmons - pushed by parents, but never quite lived up to their dreams
* Edmund Pollard - bizarre imagery
* Abel Melveny - a hopeful maker of the time, bought all the machines and never used them
* Ida Frickey - a penniless girl who dreams of the more she should have had
* Seth Compton - built a library lost without him
* Richard Bone - wrote epitaphs for others, so he knew what they really meant
* Dillard Sissman - dies in the desert, beautiful imagery
* Shack Dye - everyone thought him stupid, but he saw the truth
* Perry Zoll - a scientist rejected until he grew to reject them
* Archibald Higbie - too good for Spoon River, but couldn't get it out of him
* Elmer Karr - murderer sent to prison and repented
* Anne Rutledge - allegedly Abraham Lincoln's first love
* Mabel Osborne - gave everything and died of it
* J. Milton Miles - the religious' bells all sound the same
* Willie Pennington - they called him simpleton, built a life of himself
* John Ballard - cursed God and cursed the stars, tried to change too late
* Alfonso Churchill - an astronomer, poetry of stars
* Le Roy Goldman - rejecting the God who let friends and family die

Yeah I know, it's like half of them. It would be interesting to see a graph of the relations between them all.

The late Mr. Jonathan Swift Somers, laureate of Spoon River planned The Spooniad as an epic in twenty-four books, but unfortunately did not live to complete even the first book. The fragment was found among his papers by William Marion Reedy and was for the first time published in Reedy's Mirror of December 18th, 1914.

He may not have finished the epic planned, but through Spoon River, he shall be remembered.

Immortality is not a gift,
Immortality is an achievement;
And only those who strive mightily
Shall possess it.

Worth reading.
… (more)
jpv0 | 38 other reviews | Jul 21, 2021 |
This is a re-read of a classic I love, in anticipation of seeing it on stage. Masters' concept here is still unique and fresh and the short free-verse poems are easy to digest. Told from the graveyard in Spoon River, a small rural Illinois town, each character is essentially sharing his or her epitaph from the other side. How the characters interconnect and how the small town fosters lots of drama and hidden undercurrents of emotion is the truly interesting part. Favorites include: Richard Cory, Lucinda Matlock, Mrs. Merritt, Julia Miller, Chase Henry and many others. It's easy to dip in here and there and it doesn't need to be read cover-to-cover, but it is a worthwhile undertaking.… (more)
CarrieWuj | 38 other reviews | Oct 24, 2020 |



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