If you asked who my favorite poet is, I wouldn’t hesitate in my answer: T.S. Eliot. If you asked me my favorite poem or collection of poems, my answer would not be “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or “The Hollow Men” or “Four Quartets.” My answer would be Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950).
I first read Spoon River Anthology in high school, junior year, in fact, the year we all took American literature (paired with American history). Our teacher, Mrs. Prince, was a larger-than-life character who spoke in breathless superlatives and occasional exuberant shouts. She told us that Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls was the greatest American novel ever written; it had been published the previous year.
She loved American literature, however, and she was rather wildly enthusiastic about Huckleberry Finn (apparently is was almost as good as Valley of the Dolls) and Walt Whitman. But when she introduced us to the Realists (Edith Wharton, Jack London, Willa Cather) and the early Modernist poets (Eliot, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, and others), I believe I fell in love with literature.
We read parts of Spoon River Anthology, that collection of more than 200 tombstone inscriptions, aloud in class. I read the whole work for a research paper. I was enthralled. The class even attended a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which seemed to me a dramatic version of Spoon River Anthology.
To continue reading, please see my post today at TweetspeakPoetry.
Top Photograph: Edgar Lee Masters
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