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CLASSIC POETRY Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of short free-form poems that collectively narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional small town named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters' home town. The aim of the poems is to demystify the rural, small town CLASSIC POETRY Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of short free-form poems that collectively narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional small town named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters' home town. The aim of the poems is to demystify the rural, small town American life. The collection includes two hundred and twelve separate characters, all providing two-hundred forty-four accounts of their lives and losses. The poems were originally published in the magazine Reedy's Mirror. Each following poem is an epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves. They speak about the sorts of things one might expect: some recite their histories and turning points, others make observations of life from the outside, and petty ones complain of the treatment of their graves, while few tell how they really died. Speaking without reason to lie or fear the consequences, they construct a picture of life in their town that is shorn of facades. The interplay of various villagers - e.g. a bright and successful man crediting his parents for all he's accomplished, and an old woman weeping because he is secretly her illegitimate child - forms a gripping, if not pretty, whole."


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CLASSIC POETRY Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of short free-form poems that collectively narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional small town named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters' home town. The aim of the poems is to demystify the rural, small town CLASSIC POETRY Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of short free-form poems that collectively narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional small town named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters' home town. The aim of the poems is to demystify the rural, small town American life. The collection includes two hundred and twelve separate characters, all providing two-hundred forty-four accounts of their lives and losses. The poems were originally published in the magazine Reedy's Mirror. Each following poem is an epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves. They speak about the sorts of things one might expect: some recite their histories and turning points, others make observations of life from the outside, and petty ones complain of the treatment of their graves, while few tell how they really died. Speaking without reason to lie or fear the consequences, they construct a picture of life in their town that is shorn of facades. The interplay of various villagers - e.g. a bright and successful man crediting his parents for all he's accomplished, and an old woman weeping because he is secretly her illegitimate child - forms a gripping, if not pretty, whole."

30 review for Spoon River Anthology: Poetry Collection

  1. 4 out of 5

    Majenta

    If you liked Fannie Flagg's THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING, Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, and/or Virginia Woolf's THE WAVES, you might like this. I read this because of THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING. Thanks for reading....and listening!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Edgar Lee Masters was the first poet whose poetry I loved with my whole heart. My high opinion of his work has never changed, notwithstanding the fact that he hasn't been cool for 50 years, if ever. Ha! Neither have I.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, published in 1915, is a unique literary experience. A collection of inter-related free-form poems, each title a persons name, and each person a resident of the town cemetery. Masters has each relate a short story; some folks talk about their life, many about the circumstances of their death. Husbands and wives relate different perspectives of the same events, lovers and soldiers tell of their history, and each is a distinct, poetic voice. Masters begins Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, published in 1915, is a unique literary experience. A collection of inter-related free-form poems, each title a person’s name, and each person a resident of the town cemetery. Masters has each relate a short story; some folks talk about their life, many about the circumstances of their death. Husbands and wives relate different perspectives of the same events, lovers and soldiers tell of their history, and each is a distinct, poetic voice. Masters begins his anthology with “The Hill” a setting for the pageant of ghostly visits to come: “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.
 Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
 The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—
 All, all are sleeping on the hill.
 One died in shameful child-birth,
 One of a thwarted love,
 One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
 One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire;
 One after life in far-away London and Paris
 Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag—
 All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
 Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
 And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
 And Major Walker who had talked
 With venerable men of the revolution?—
 All, all are sleeping on the hill.
 They brought them dead sons from the war,
 And daughters whom life had crushed,
 And their children fatherless, crying—
 All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
 Where is Old Fiddler Jones
 Who played with life all his ninety years,
 Braving the sleet with bared breast,
 Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
 Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
 Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
 Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
 Of what Abe Lincoln said
 One time at Springfield” The reader comes away from this two hundred odd visits with the dead of the small town of Spoon River, Illinois with a distinctively American vision of our culture before 1915; many of the poems are from those who died in or before the Civil War. I was reminded of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town and the final act when the dead stand stoically in their graves and observe the procession of living before them. Exceptional in quality and unparalleled in vision and dramatic design, Master’s Anthology is an early twentieth century treasure of American literature.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    The dead tell their secrets where they are buried. With no reason to lie we find that all is not what it seemed to be: some of the "pillars" of the community were rotten to the core and some of the "dregs" of the town were the best citizens. I think of this book every time I see a homeless person and wonder: has society abandoned this person while (somewhere) a CEO commits crimes that will never come to light?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    244 dead residents of the Midwestern town of Spoon River (some based on real people and some fictional) tell the stories of their triumphs, frustrations, unrequited longings, their secrets -- often harboring lingering grudges about people buried alongside them. Whole families and neighbors, cross-talking in death. Each poem is titled with the name of the person speaking; each is short and most of them are heartbreaking. The wife and husband and the doctor, all scandalized by an abortion, the 244 dead residents of the Midwestern town of Spoon River (some based on real people and some fictional) tell the stories of their triumphs, frustrations, unrequited longings, their secrets -- often harboring lingering grudges about people buried alongside them. Whole families and neighbors, cross-talking in death. Each poem is titled with the name of the person speaking; each is short and most of them are heartbreaking. The wife and husband and the doctor, all scandalized by an abortion, the boyfriend who caused the pregnancy, the wife of the doctor, defending her husband. The respectable judge, resentful that the town drunk is more remembered than he is... With its revelations of spousal abuse, sexual dalliances and more, this book was almost as controversial as Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." It's appropriate to be reading this at the same time I'm getting through "Leaves..." and Sinclair Lewis' expose of small-town secrets, "Main Street." It would probably make a good companion to "Winesburg, Ohio," I'm thinking. The poetry is free verse, so the short pieces are easy to understand. This is such a beautiful, and cleverly conceived work of American poetry and literature. ([email protected]; slightly amended in 2016)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I, like many people, had read some of the pieces in "Spoon River Anthology" in college, but I have to recommend reading the entire work. It is a unique and very fulfilling experience. Edgar Lee Masters' greatest work was published as a unified whole in 1915 and is 244 individual poems, each from the perspective of a different dead person in the cemetery. Their name serves as the poem's title. Woven throughout the 244 pieces are 19 stories that are pieced together through interwoven portraits I, like many people, had read some of the pieces in "Spoon River Anthology" in college, but I have to recommend reading the entire work. It is a unique and very fulfilling experience. Edgar Lee Masters' greatest work was published as a unified whole in 1915 and is 244 individual poems, each from the perspective of a different dead person in the cemetery. Their name serves as the poem's title. Woven throughout the 244 pieces are 19 stories that are pieced together through interwoven portraits from the dead. It is a different and surprisingly accessible way to create a history of a town and its people. With only a handful of obtuse and esoteric pieces, the vast majority of the poems are easily understood and interesting. Their themes run the gamut of possibilities, and "Spoon River Anthology" is an excellent choice for book clubs. The text continually reminds us of the variety of perspectives every event in a community or family engenders and one of the joys of the text is seeing how different people interpreted and reacted to the same events. Great examples are the contrasting pomes of "Albert Schrding" and "Jonas Keene" which beautifully demonstrate how one's attitude and perspective affects the events of our lives. One criticism I have heard readers level at this book is that it is so dark and that none of the people were happy in life. While I agree that a lot of the pieces in the text are dark, bitter, and weary in their tone I don't think that Masters is being nihilistic about life. Rather I think he is pointing the finger at us and telling us that we take this gift and make it that way by our thoughts and actions. There are harsh pieces in this text, especially the "Indignation Jones" and "Minerva Jones" pieces. They resound with the cruelties of life. Abortion is even rather openly addressed which I was surprised to find considering the time of publication. However for every dark storyline, like Indignation and Minerva's, there is a poem like "Fiddler Jones" which resounds with the love and joys of life. There are lots of great moments in this text, my favorite being the wonderful poem "Lucinda Matlock" which is one of the most encouraging and uplifting poems in all of literature. It extols the simple joys of life, and finds satisfaction enough in that. There are many pieces I could talk about, but you need to decide on your own which poems and characters speak to you. I will conclude by saying that the "Epilogue" will need to be reread. There is an elusive beauty and depth to it that a second reading will open up. It is a fine ending to this masterwork.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karla

    I've trawled through many a 19th century small town newspaper for various research projects, and one's dirty linen was often hung out to dry for public view in the printed word. Old men running off with the serving girls, errant wives being tracked down and found in flagrante with their lovers, etc. I've even got a great-great-uncle whose wife was run out of town on a rail by "The Community" for her illicit affair with a neighbor. Nasty little Victorian Peyton Places. Reading Spoon River I've trawled through many a 19th century small town newspaper for various research projects, and one's dirty linen was often hung out to dry for public view in the printed word. Old men running off with the serving girls, errant wives being tracked down and found in flagrante with their lovers, etc. I've even got a great-great-uncle whose wife was run out of town on a rail by "The Community" for her illicit affair with a neighbor. Nasty little Victorian Peyton Places. Reading Spoon River Anthology is like revisiting those musty old papers, and the anger, resignation, joy, sadness, and all the other emotions that roil in a small town, past and present, are beautifully conveyed by Masters' easy-to-process verse. I'm not much of a poetry reader - in fact, I tend to loathe it. But Homer, Shel Silverstein and Masters are the exceptions.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Fede

    Maybe we never really die as long as we are remembered. Only after we are forgotten can we find the peace of the soul and get rid of our burden of guilt, mistakes and regrets; it is the oblivion of the living that allows us to leave the world behind and enter the life we were truly meant to live. If so, the best we can do for our beloved is to set them free from the snares of our sorrow until we meet again.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Not a bad book, but not one I would read again or recommend to others. It's a collection of free-verse poems, crafted as epitaphs of the former citizens of the Midwestern town Spoon River. While there were some meaningful poems and well-developed characters, there were quite a few sections that I did not care for at all. I've never been an ardent fan of poetry, though, and this one, while a good read, did nothing to change that. Here's my favorite poem from the book: "George Gray: I have studied Not a bad book, but not one I would read again or recommend to others. It's a collection of free-verse poems, crafted as epitaphs of the former citizens of the Midwestern town Spoon River. While there were some meaningful poems and well-developed characters, there were quite a few sections that I did not care for at all. I've never been an ardent fan of poetry, though, and this one, while a good read, did nothing to change that. Here's my favorite poem from the book: "George Gray: I have studied many times The marble which was chiseled for me- A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. In truth it pictures not my destination But my life. For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid; Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. And now I know that we must lift the sail And catch the winds of destiny Wherever they drive the boat. To put meaning in one's life may end in madness, Of restlessness and vague desire- It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    This was so very lovely.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I have read this book about 50 times, in bits and pieces, and about a half-dozen from start to finish in order. I love it. Let me start with what the book is about. This is a book of free-form poems that serves as a narrative, each poem told from the point of view of a resident of Spoon River who has died and who is telling their story after the fact, their own epitaph. Some poems go together, some stand alone, but they form the elaborate portrait of a community. A seeming non-sequitur, perhaps, I have read this book about 50 times, in bits and pieces, and about a half-dozen from start to finish in order. I love it. Let me start with what the book is about. This is a book of free-form poems that serves as a narrative, each poem told from the point of view of a resident of Spoon River who has died and who is telling their story after the fact, their own epitaph. Some poems go together, some stand alone, but they form the elaborate portrait of a community. A seeming non-sequitur, perhaps, but it will come back around in the end: I love cemeteries. I love that there is a solid, physical record of a person’s life in the form of a stone or plaque, left behind to show something for their life, something that doesn’t deteriorate like their body. When I did a year abroad in Italy, I spent a lot of time in Venice. The cemetery there is on a separate island. There’s a part of the cemetery that’s basically a mausoleum built like a wall instead of a cube, and it’s all for kids who died. They were mostly babies and toddlers, but here’s the part I liked best: Each plaque had a portrait of the child next to it, painted onto porcelain, like photo transfer paper onto cloth, before transfer paper. Each person in that place had something specific to them, shaped by the person they were in life, which lived on after their death. It moved me to the point of tears. A year or so after I got back, I saw a photo in a gallery that I would have LOVED to own but it was too pricey. I’m not sure who shot it, so I’ll just describe it: a couple of rows of grey headstones with just last names carved on them. On several of them, there are silhouettes of the occupants of the graves, one guy with a cowboy hat, one woman with long hair, etc…. not sure how the artist did it, as it was a photograph of shadows, but it was pretty awesome. Ok, here’s where it fits together: Even though Spoon River is fiction, the community becomes so vivid in the epitaphs of its residents that it feels real and timeless. I can only hope that there’s something so real left of me when I am gone. That was a bit of a downer. Here’s an upper: It’s FREE on the Kindle (though there’s no formatting or chapter index… that’s what happens when it’s free…) (It’s probably also available in other e-book formats for free, since it’s out of copyright.) That is all.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    i admit that i probably love the idea of this book more than the actual book, but i love the idea of it so damn much that the actual thing still gets five stars. a portrait of a small american town through the from-the-dead poem-soliloquies of hundreds of its departed inhabitants, it's unlike any other book i've ever read. the dead folk discuss their lives and deaths and thoughts and beliefs and relationships with each other, the town, and the larger world. it's from the dead so there's a i admit that i probably love the idea of this book more than the actual book, but i love the idea of it so damn much that the actual thing still gets five stars. a portrait of a small american town through the from-the-dead poem-soliloquies of hundreds of its departed inhabitants, it's unlike any other book i've ever read. the dead folk discuss their lives and deaths and thoughts and beliefs and relationships with each other, the town, and the larger world. it's from the dead so there's a pronounced metaphysical aspect (though masters never takes a particular religious stand). it spans generations of american history. there are people (well, a person) who remembers george washington, and others who fought in the civil war and WWI. Anne Rutledge, Abe Lincoln's first love, is here. There's a young Chinese boy who came from far away and was killed by the minister's son. Others who fell from water towers, were murdered in lover's quarrels, who died of heartbreak and disease. it's a heartbreaking book and also a hopeful one, but never sentimental or bleak. it's very quiet. it has a shape, a novelistic arc, but not an overly pronounced one. it's subtle. it's kind of like The Country of the Pointed Firs and kind of like Winesburg, Ohio, but it's more spacious and experimental-- more formally interesting-- than either, though a lot simpler and less realistic. this book seems to be part of my personal reader's mythology. i don't know exactly how it got there, but it's there. like catch-22 and the catcher in the rye, it's a book that just won't go away, won't leave me alone. i don't know if it's for everyone, but it seems to be for me. Sometimes I talked with animals-- even toads and snakes-- Anything that had an eye to look into. Once I saw a stone in the sunshine Trying to turn into jelly. -Willie Metcalf

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    This is a conceptually intriguing book in which the residents (represented by over 200 poems) of a small town cemetery speak from the grave about the truth as they see it, being free from social pressure or potential retribution to present themselves or others in a good light. I think it's important to remember that Masters was a lawyer by profession, a person who had heard people's testimonies about incidents and different people and had seen how judges and juries dealt with them. This book This is a conceptually intriguing book in which the residents (represented by over 200 poems) of a small town cemetery speak from the grave about the truth as they see it, being free from social pressure or potential retribution to present themselves or others in a good light. I think it's important to remember that Masters was a lawyer by profession, a person who had heard people's testimonies about incidents and different people and had seen how judges and juries dealt with them. This book isn't simply about a small town, it's about humanity and justice, sometimes in the legal sense and sometimes in the larger sense. It's also about how people perceive themselves and others. We get more than one perspective on different characters or events that come up as the individuals speak. This is a book-length work that was written in sections that appeared serially before being collected into a single volume. As many people note, the poems at the beginning of the book are almost unremittingly depressing. They're largely about people who experienced injustice or floundered in the face of events they couldn't control. This lets up in the last third of the book, though not necessarily to good effect. I felt that Masters continued the project after it's vital energy had waned. Women may be a little dissatisfied with the book because so few women are represented, 50 out of 244, and often in stereotypical ways. This isn't surprising considering that most of these poems appeared before women had even been granted the right to vote. Though the lack of representation is still a disappointment, it's worth acknowledging that he did give women a voice and laid bare some injustices toward them and community attitudes toward stereotypes represented that were unjust. He doesn't let things be simple. The copy I read had a had an introduction by John Hollander and footnotes clarifying the many historical and literary allusions in the poems. I highly recommend people get a volume with the footnotes. Much has been written about this work. In fact, it's the only book of poetry I've ever heard of that has its own website (spoonriveranthology.net), essentially a fan site. It's worth reading and rereading. By the end, I the many people/poems had become a blur and I'm not able to say which were my favorites. The next time through I'll mark them. And there will definitely be a next time through. Not all of the poems were great but many of them were superb and I'd like to find them again. I don't think this book is for everyone but it struck me as a good book to have students read and discuss at the high school level because if offers so much to talk about, whether matters of poetics or history or justice. I intend to give a copy to my brother, who is a lawyer and would appreciate the many perspectives that turn up in the book. I also think any serious student of poetry should read it as an example of a big project. In our formal education, we so rarely presented with even remotely contemporary examples of book-length poems or projects. I was quite miffed to be left clueless about this book until running into it at my local library. I want to warn the readers of this review that Spoon River Anthology is generally considered the only work of Masters worth preserving. As John Hollander put it, a "quite uninspired poet, who in the unique format, and under imaginative pressures, excelled himself by producing a masterpiece." His other poetry is very conventional rhymed verse and only in throwing off convention in middle age was he able to speak in a variety of voices and from a variety of perspectives to produce this fascinating work.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

    The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Edgar Lee Masters' great work is impressive in its scope; with over two hundred "epitaphs," each one an individual person, the collection takes apart small-town America in the early 20th century with astonishing precision. Masters makes no bones about the presence of corruption and cruelty (Thomas Rhodes is frequently indicted by the other dead), secret sins, everything that those who would have lived in a town like Spoon River saw every day of The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Edgar Lee Masters' great work is impressive in its scope; with over two hundred "epitaphs," each one an individual person, the collection takes apart small-town America in the early 20th century with astonishing precision. Masters makes no bones about the presence of corruption and cruelty (Thomas Rhodes is frequently indicted by the other dead), secret sins, everything that those who would have lived in a town like Spoon River saw every day of their lives. Some of these stories are particularly heart-wrenching, as in the paired poems "Elsa Wertman" and "Hamilton Greene", or biting, as with "Mrs. Charles Bliss" and "Rev. Lemuel Wiley". He gets to the roots of a place, using the actual Spoon River as a (sometimes even still living) model for his characters, but in doing so creates a mirror of the soul of all such places. This makes the whole Anthology an intriguing and powerful look at a segment of society under the microscope. The various stories are connected brilliantly--often, each participant tells his side of the story absolutely without deception and exposes the way no one can really understand what goes on in any other mind through the contradictions in the accounts. Some poems stand alone, with little to no connection to any of the various story arcs; of those: "Lucinda Matlock", with her famous pronouncement of "It takes life to love Life"; "Percival Sharp", who sees "anchors, for those who never sailed./ And gates ajar--yes, so they were; You left them open and stray goats entered your garden"; "Fiddler Jones", who "ended up with a broken fiddle--/And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories"; and "George Gray", who is "a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid" are among the best. Unfortunately, most of the poems that do not contribute significantly to one or another of the stories add very little to the overall feel of the town, and so do not add much to the work as a whole. The book can also be a little short on "poetry". Published in 1915, Spoon River Anthology is near the forefront of free-verse poetry and Masters, at times, loses sight of the flow of his words. The poems of the bulk of the book fall between the best of Whitman or Sandburg and the worst of the same in terms of their relative lyricism. At the end of the collection, "The Spooniad" and "Epilogue" make an effort to find lyricism in blank verse and a rhyming verse play respectively, but neither of these efforts is entirely successful in style and neither approaches the intelligence and power of the epitaphs that make up the Anthology. I would definitely recommend this book as a whole and advise reading it is as few sittings as possible; Masters' brilliance is not so much in the poems themselves as in they way they interact.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Franky

    Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology is a series of poems representing the voices of Spoon River, a fictional Southern town. The citizens, who speak from beyond the grave on The Hill, tell of their lives and those they knew, lamenting on various aspects of their past life. The poems have a dramatic monologue, epitaph-like quality; they are snapshots of emotion, philosophy, wisdom and morals from these residents. The individual voices of Spoon River are quite diverse, as you might imagine. Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology is a series of poems representing the voices of Spoon River, a fictional Southern town. The citizens, who speak from beyond the grave on The Hill, tell of their lives and those they knew, lamenting on various aspects of their past life. The poems have a dramatic monologue, epitaph-like quality; they are snapshots of emotion, philosophy, wisdom and morals from these residents. The individual voices of Spoon River are quite diverse, as you might imagine. Murderers and thieves, jealousies and scandals, love and hope, crushed dreams and suicide, moral wisdom and philosophy, bitter hatred and regret, optimism and nostalgia all make up Spoon River. Some citizens express the guilt and regret of not having lived life better. Others offer clues about failed and hopeless love. Others give perspective on what mattered most to them in life. Still others give clues and perspective on how they lived, and how they died. There is a slice of small town community in each, and Masters presents these snapshots in a hauntingly, poignant way. Most viewpoints have a dark, pessimistic quality to them, and others that offer moral wisdom from beyond, a “life lesson.”. One passage that stood out to me was that of George Gray, who muses about not being afraid to explore life to one’s fullest: “To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, But life without meaning is the torture Of restlessness and vague desire— It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid..” There is an undercurrent of repetitiveness within the collection of poems, many dealing with weighty topics like death, isolation, failed love and despair. For that reason, there were several times I had to put the book aside and read something else. That’s not to say that there isn’t a beautiful, lyrical quality to this collection of poems, but rather, that this anthology is not a “quick read” and requires a little patience because of its “heavy” themes. Not all outlooks from Spoon River are so dark in tone; there a few, like Lucinda Matlock, that look at their life at Spoon River with no regrets: “At ninety-six, I had lived enough, that is all, And passed to a sweet repose.” What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness, Anger, discontent, and drooping hopes?” Masters adeptly captures so many varying perspectives and tells the story of so many lives in this small community that you can’t help but admire the sheer beauty and artistic quality of his work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emily Dybdahl

    This was a fascinating walk through a graveyard of lives lived and ended in passion-whether it was despair, yearning, resentment, or remembered dreams. Each poem gave a brief glimpse into the most emotional portion of the person's life. Stories were interwoven as names cropped up in other people's poems or epitaphs. Opposing perspectives showed unreliable narrators-liars, those who were just plain delusional, and maybe two equally true but incompatible sides to a story. Below are the titles that This was a fascinating walk through a graveyard of lives lived and ended in passion-whether it was despair, yearning, resentment, or remembered dreams. Each poem gave a brief glimpse into the most emotional portion of the person's life. Stories were interwoven as names cropped up in other people's poems or epitaphs. Opposing perspectives showed unreliable narrators-liars, those who were just plain delusional, and maybe two equally true but incompatible sides to a story. Below are the titles that stuck out to me and either my favorite line or the reason I liked it: *Hod Putt: "Now we who took the bankrupt law in our respective ways/Sleep peacefully side by side." *Ollie McGee: a short piece, but a complete and rich tale of vengeance. *Serepta Mason: the analogy to a plant and her two sides. *Judge Somers: Irony is a bitch, Judge Somers. *Trainor the Druggist: because he's a chemist! *Charlie French: such an innocent little life. *Dorcas Gustine: "The tongue may be an unruly member-/But silence poisons the soul." *Louise Smith: I liked the perspective comparison with Herbert Marshall, and also "Do not let the will play gardener to your soul/Unless you are sure/It is wiser than your soul's nature." *Griffy the Cooper: Such metaphor! *Mrs. Charles Bliss/Rev. Lemuel Wiley: Oh, if only he knew! *Albert Schirding/Jonas Keene: Albert was a glass-half-empty kind of guy. If only he could have seen what Jonas saw... *Penniwit, the Artist: I LOVE his humor. Good for him seeing through to the true expression of Judge Somers. *Robert Davidson: Was quite the devil throughout life-ended like an evil spirit should. *Elsa Wertman/Hamilton Greene: Amazing sacrifice to which he will forever be blind. *Mrs. Kessler: "And there are stains that baffle soap,/And there are colors that run in spite of you," *Seth Compton: he built the circulating library for Spoon River, and no one appreciated it and kept it going :( :( :( *Willie Metcalf: "I never knew whether I was a part of the earth/With flowers growing in me, or whether I walked-/Now I know. *The Village Atheist: "Immortality is not a gift,/Immortality is an achievement;/And only those who strive mightily/Shall possess it." *The Spooniad: Tied everyone together in one small "epic".

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    I grew up in Northwestern Illinois. I knew the land to the Southeast of us was fertile ground for poets, with Galesburgs Carl Sandburg and Springfields Vachel Lindsay, and with Spoon Rivers Edgar Lee Masters about halfway between. I have long known that Masters Spoon River Anthology was a series of short poems based on names on the gravestones in a cemetery near the river, having learned that from my Dads copy of his high school Literature book. Im not sure how my Dad ended up with a copy of his I grew up in Northwestern Illinois. I knew the land to the Southeast of us was fertile ground for poets, with Galesburg’s Carl Sandburg and Springfield’s Vachel Lindsay, and with Spoon River’s Edgar Lee Masters about halfway between. I have long known that Master’s “Spoon River Anthology” was a series of short poems based on names on the gravestones in a cemetery near the river, having learned that from my Dad’s copy of his high school Literature book. I’m not sure how my Dad ended up with a copy of his high school Literature book, but it had the funniest graffiti on the many author pictures. Growing up, I remember this book as having a distinct and memorable personality, what with all the glasses, scars, fangs and arrows through heads adorning the authors of the classics. There was the original book’s style, then a different one that was added on by years of bored high school seniors. And that’s how I think of Master’s vignettes. He took the names and dates from stones and created linkages and a variety of stories that were obviously were his creations reflecting his style, as it were. I wasn’t expecting the amount of linkages between the characters in the cemetery, and I found this quite a nifty way to write about over a hundred folks. I also appreciated that when he gave voice to these folks, some for a few lines, some for a few pages, they all had something to say from the grave. Many told of how they died. A few told of how they lived. Some even had messages for the living. Quite an interesting thought experiment determining what all these folks would say. Masters put in lots of humorous or ridiculous death descriptions, likely to lighten the mood for such a somber subject. I listened to the audio version of this with, was it 50 different voice actors? Including Ed Asner. I found that a good way to listen, the variety kept the interest up, and there were a few music trills mixed in that closed a line of discussion, it seems.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I heard about this anthology first in The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, and when I went back to look for it, I also found an album based on the songs. So I used my Rhapsody account and listened to The Hill by Richard Buckner while reading the 244 accounts by dead people in the cemetary on the hill in Spoon River. Some of my favorites included Robert Davidson (creepy), Faith Matheny (and her visions of God and love), Mary McNeely ("Passerby, To love is to find your own soul through the soul of I heard about this anthology first in The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, and when I went back to look for it, I also found an album based on the songs. So I used my Rhapsody account and listened to The Hill by Richard Buckner while reading the 244 accounts by dead people in the cemetary on the hill in Spoon River. Some of my favorites included Robert Davidson (creepy), Faith Matheny (and her visions of God and love), Mary McNeely ("Passerby, To love is to find your own soul through the soul of the beloved one"), and Fiddler Jones ("I ended up with a broken fiddle - And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories, and not a single regret.")

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    When I'd see the title of this book, published more than one hundred years ago, it always sounded as if it were written by a Southern writer. In a sense, it was. Though the author grew up in small towns in Illinois and eventually went to practice law with Clarence Darrow in Chicago, his family had Southern roots. He always maintained sympathy for the Confederacy and wrote scathing "biographies" of both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. This book of blank verse poetry, focusing on the character and When I'd see the title of this book, published more than one hundred years ago, it always sounded as if it were written by a Southern writer. In a sense, it was. Though the author grew up in small towns in Illinois and eventually went to practice law with Clarence Darrow in Chicago, his family had Southern roots. He always maintained sympathy for the Confederacy and wrote scathing "biographies" of both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. This book of blank verse poetry, focusing on the character and fate of different people, is intended as a blunt expose of small town life. In 2008, during the presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin lionized small towns. "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity," she said. She was quoting journalist Westbrook Pegler, a Mencken-like critic of politicians, who became more extreme as he got older, with his last gig at the John Birch Society. But this version of small towns appealed to some. I have a friend who grew up in LA who bought the whole thing. One of his favorite TV shows as a kid was "Andy of Mayberry"and believed. that's what small towns were like. I was born and grew up for awhile in a small town in northern New Hampshire. My father was the town doctor. The main sources for civic revenue were a paper mill, that heavily polluted the river that ran through town (I can still remember the smell) and tourism. At age 45, my father had a mid-life crisis and through a series of events we ended up in the SF Bay Area, where I still live. He told me many stories of the small town and observed that the novel and soap, Peyton Place, were based on a town like ours in New Hampshire. My hometown was more Twin Peaks than Mayberry. The thrust of Spoon River is that people are people, they are no different than people in big cities except that people in small towns know a good deal about the personal business of their neighbors. There is no privacy. These towns do not match Palin's fantasy. (And, indeed, accounts of Palin's own family in small town Alaska underline the dark side). But students of human nature should not be surprised.

  20. 4 out of 5

    J.

    After a full summer battling Infinite Jest (and thoroughly enjoying it), this book was welcome relief. It is a mix of homespun wisdom and incredibly insightful commentary. While very accessible, Masters is astute. He has a lot to say about living, death, and regret (and a surprising amount on lawyers). This is the kind of book you can give to your Grandma, with a nice note that says "I love you," and then have something to discuss over the holidays as you help her wash the dishes. On morality's After a full summer battling Infinite Jest (and thoroughly enjoying it), this book was welcome relief. It is a mix of homespun wisdom and incredibly insightful commentary. While very accessible, Masters is astute. He has a lot to say about living, death, and regret (and a surprising amount on lawyers). This is the kind of book you can give to your Grandma, with a nice note that says "I love you," and then have something to discuss over the holidays as you help her wash the dishes. On morality's drive, for instance, from Sexsmith the Dentist: "Why, a moral truth is a hollow tooth / Which must be propped with gold." Some wisdom from old Lucinda Matlock: "What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness, / Anger, discontent and drooping hopes? / Degenerate sons and daughters, Life is too strong for you -- / It takes life to love Life." And something about living from Davis Matlock: "Well, I say to live it out like a God / Sure of immortal life, though you are in doubt, / Is the way to live it. / If that doesn't make God proud of you / Then God is nothing but gravitation, / Or sleep is the golden goal." I'm now heeding the call of George Gray: "To put meaning in one's life may end in madness, / But life without meaning is the torture / Of restlessness and vague desire -- / It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid." And I'm living life as Fiddler Jones, my acreage be damned (you'll have to read that one on your own: http://tiny.cc/796r5).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I'm rereading this after 25 years and can't put it down. These are beautiful poems, all of them. So short, so simple, never plain, so complex, so surprising. Eat them, taste them, drink them, go back and roll in them again. When I read this book at fourteen, I was depressed and wanted to die, and here I found a couple hundred people who already had. (For some reason, after eight months of nuclear holocausts, the Civil War, sci-fi and horror, my English teacher thought it was a good idea for us to I'm rereading this after 25 years and can't put it down. These are beautiful poems, all of them. So short, so simple, never plain, so complex, so surprising. Eat them, taste them, drink them, go back and roll in them again. When I read this book at fourteen, I was depressed and wanted to die, and here I found a couple hundred people who already had. (For some reason, after eight months of nuclear holocausts, the Civil War, sci-fi and horror, my English teacher thought it was a good idea for us to write our own Spoon River-style epitaphs on little construction paper headstones.) But now, 25 years later, things are different. I am not depressed, and here are a couple hundred people whose lives are, well, vignetted, or excerpted, or commented upon--how would my life look, if I died tonight? I'm 39; this is not, after all, 1915, my life is not over, and it is not too late to live. Read this book. We read this in junior high and I loved it--after eight months of reading about nuclear war, hearing about nuclear war, studying the Civil war, watching films about nuclear war, and reading Stephen King and his ilk, I was glad to read something that matched my mood so well. I also enjoyed the poetry. I haven't touched it since, but I really should.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    I can appreciate why, at the time of its publication in 1915, the book was seen as creative in its structure -- lots of short poems, each in the voice or a different deceased former resident of the town of Spoon River, Illinois -- and bracingly blunt in its substance. Some of the deceased admit to having committed murder or adultery; others offer sardonic reflections - all is vanity and chasing the wind. Since then, of course, the themes have become commonplace, and been explored with greater I can appreciate why, at the time of its publication in 1915, the book was seen as creative in its structure -- lots of short poems, each in the voice or a different deceased former resident of the town of Spoon River, Illinois -- and bracingly blunt in its substance. Some of the deceased admit to having committed murder or adultery; others offer sardonic reflections - all is vanity and chasing the wind. Since then, of course, the themes have become commonplace, and been explored with greater nuance and explicitness elsewhere. The structure has been imitated in other works - a prose example is the book 253, by Geoff Ryman, with each chapter about a different passenger on an ill-fated subway train. While the Spoon River Anthology now seems relatively tame, it's still enjoyable, and the trick of offering one story from a handful of radically divergent points of view still works. Many of the poems are forgettable, but some are haunting: Mickey M'Grew, who died cleaning the town water tank; Conrad Siever, buried under one of his apple trees; Mrs. Sibley, pastor's wife and free spirit; Elsa Wertman, German immigrant and mother of a successful politician who has no idea he is her son.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I told a friend while reading this I had no idea how vindictive dead people could be. As I continued reading, I realized that this delightful book, with poems told from the perspectives of the people buried in Spoon River Cemetery, was about more than just vindictiveness; it was about humanity - about love, regret, success, failure, bitterness, joy, resentment, and pride. How can a single page-long poem summarize the person speaking it? I wouldnt have thought it possible, but Masters brilliantly I told a friend while reading this “I had no idea how vindictive dead people could be.” As I continued reading, I realized that this delightful book, with poems told from the perspectives of the people buried in Spoon River Cemetery, was about more than just vindictiveness; it was about humanity - about love, regret, success, failure, bitterness, joy, resentment, and pride. How can a single page-long poem summarize the person speaking it? I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Masters brilliantly displays the person - the WHOLE person - in that single page. He leaves you wanting to know more about these people and to know the truth behind often-conflicting accounts of the same events which are interwoven throughout the larger subtle narrative of the collection as a whole. By the end, I felt I really knew the people in this town and, despite all their flaws, liked them anyway. This will certainly be a re-read for me.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Geniuswill42 Ramsey

    We read selections from this in English and I was like "Whoa this is a cool and eclectic mix of epitaphs written by themselves." I get the book and realize that it's not an eclectic mix it's just one unrealistically depressing epitaph after another of people having affairs and lieing all the time and I'm like "OK no town is this depressing." It just got repeptive and sameish. If it was 20 pages shorter it would have been better, but it was just overkill of the same basic idea over and over We read selections from this in English and I was like "Whoa this is a cool and eclectic mix of epitaphs written by themselves." I get the book and realize that it's not an eclectic mix it's just one unrealistically depressing epitaph after another of people having affairs and lieing all the time and I'm like "OK no town is this depressing." It just got repeptive and sameish. If it was 20 pages shorter it would have been better, but it was just overkill of the same basic idea over and over again.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This was so good and so creepy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    My heart, not my head, has dictated how many stars I have given this book! I can think of many reasons why I should give it more, but three is what I feel is right for me.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    surprising and experimental. Im in the area where this book was read, so Im reading this as a form of radical tourism surprising and experimental. I’m in the area where this book was read, so I’m reading this as a form of radical tourism

  28. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    To think of a small town cemetery is to imagine peace. So begins the foreword of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. If only there was peace while the residents were living, but that doesn't sound likely does it. Well, dead bodies can't really bicker that much can they? Maybe just a bit. Small town life is often presented incorrectly. Have you seen the movie about the Mystic pizza place in Connecticut? I haven't, but I've been there. It's okay. My family went to the living history type To think of a small town cemetery is to imagine peace. So begins the foreword of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology. If only there was peace while the residents were living, but that doesn't sound likely does it. Well, dead bodies can't really bicker that much can they? Maybe just a bit. Small town life is often presented incorrectly. Have you seen the movie about the Mystic pizza place in Connecticut? I haven't, but I've been there. It's okay. My family went to the living history type place in town this past summer. Most of my time there was spent being yelled at by my dad. Angsty teen issues type stuff. Adolescence is another thing that is shown as fun on TV. It isn't. I've lived in a small town my whole life, and that got old real fast. I can't speak for every small town, but mine is basically a dump. It isn't quaint or charming. The people don't like each other and we all want to leave. There is nothing to do. Some radio station voted us the most boring town in Massachusetts. Out of over 300 towns. I will never understand how my parents thought it would be a good idea to live here. A lot of parents think raising their kids in small towns is safe and such; I don't know. Spoon River is different. This book was published in 1915, so life was quite different. The town itself is barely mentioned, but the people each give their perspective of life in the small town, post-mortem. Each character gets about a page to either discuss how they died, how they lived, or what they thought about their life and/or death. Some were happy, some were sad. Rich, poor, young, old. Some hated Spoon River, some loved it. The selection of the voices presented wasn't as diverse as I thought it would be. I don't think there were any children, and just about all were white or European. But, keep in mind this was 1915, so I wouldn't expect it to be any other way. My English teacher is always talking about this book and she had us read a few poems from it, and I decided to read the whole thing. I was pleasantly surprised at the way in which Masters tied the poems up nicely, so that they were connected in a logical way. If you decide to read this, you don't have to read every single poem. I read the whole thing, and skimmed about 5% of it. Some stand out a lot more than others, but each one has its own unique voice and story. Like people. Yay individuality. As for social issues and all that stuff, the book doesn't go into much detail. The characters only have a page or two to themselves, so they wouldn't talk about inequality in womens' wages, because stuff like that wasn't even thought of back in 1915. Wow, 1915. That's almost a hundred years ago. I graduate high school in 2015. I'd say this anthology wouldn't seem like any book published now in terms of modern speech, but it isn't that dated and you would be able to understand all of the situations from oh so many years ago. It's basically small town life, and that doesn't ever change much.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    I get it--I do. But intellectually, not emotionally, which is the problem. As everyone knows, this is a book of free verse poems told by citizens of the mythical Spoon River--from the grave, reflecting on their lives. These reflections are realistic--they (mostly) avoid Victorian pieties in favor of irony and the harrowing difficulties of life in an even seemingly idyllic small town. I would have to make a real study of the book to uncover the narrative structure, but there is one, with the first I get it--I do. But intellectually, not emotionally, which is the problem. As everyone knows, this is a book of free verse poems told by citizens of the mythical Spoon River--from the grave, reflecting on their lives. These reflections are realistic--they (mostly) avoid Victorian pieties in favor of irony and the harrowing difficulties of life in an even seemingly idyllic small town. I would have to make a real study of the book to uncover the narrative structure, but there is one, with the first part seeming to deal with misplaced passions, murders, and unrequited love, the chronicles also hinting at deeper political and social structures which are explored next. Spoon River, we learn, was dominated by a rich man who owned a factory and, with the help of the press, protected himself and his family while exploiting the underclass. There's a somewhat mushy mid-section before the book moves to the (mock?) epic--well, not really mock epic. I think it's an attempt to raise the everyday to the level of the epic. The language is mostly precise, though there are places where Masters nods. I can see how the book may have been a jolt in 1915, but one hundred years later some of the ironies and exposures seem pallid--the stuff of TV melodrama. Other writers were working in a similar vein at the time, fragmenting narratives, looking for voice(s) to capture an America that was recognized as changing and diverse. Charles Retznikoff did it a decade or so later with Testimony: US (1885-1915) Recitative, which, with its basis in court documents, I find more interesting and still relevant.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lize

    From 1915, this anthology of poems leads you through a small-town graveyard, where the dead themselves tell the stories behind each tombstone. And what they describe is heartbreaking; lost loves, unfulfilled dreams, and all the other secrets people take to their graves, laid open for all to see. Some of the poems may seem old-fashioned to modern readers, but others pack a punch that transcends all time. Margaret Fuller Slack's life struck the greatest chord with me: 47. Margaret Fuller Slack I From 1915, this anthology of poems leads you through a small-town graveyard, where the dead themselves tell the stories behind each tombstone. And what they describe is heartbreaking; lost loves, unfulfilled dreams, and all the other secrets people take to their graves, laid open for all to see. Some of the poems may seem old-fashioned to modern readers, but others pack a punch that transcends all time. Margaret Fuller Slack's life struck the greatest chord with me: 47. Margaret Fuller Slack I WOULD have been as great as George Eliot But for an untoward fate. For look at the photograph of me made by Penniwit, Chin resting on hand, and deep-set eyes— Gray, too, and far-searching. But there was the old, old problem: Should it be celibacy, matrimony or unchastity? Then John Slack, the rich druggist, wooed me, Luring me with the promise of leisure for my novel, And I married him, giving birth to eight children, And had no time to write. It was all over with me, anyway, When I ran the needle in my hand While washing the baby’s things, And died from lock-jaw, an ironical death. Hear me, ambitious souls, Sex is the curse of life!

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