Saturday, August 07, 2010

Bookmarks – Spoon River Anthology

I am very glad I had a chance to read this collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters. Each person buried in the Spoon River cemetery has a monologue of sorts, so readers often get a chance to look at events from a number of different angles. One of the stories that holds this narrative together is that of crooked and selfish men not only causing the failure of the town bank, but also allowing an innocent man to go to prison for it. Readers see not only how those directly involved in this and other events are affected, but how the town itself suffers. And Spoon River is more than an interesting set of interweaving tales, but a metaphor on what is great and what is not so great about America.
Those notes may imply that Masters’ magnum opus is an attack on American values and ideals. It is not. In fact, if it attacks anything, it is the belief that humans are animals that cannot help but step on each other in the path to success. He puts to shame the hypocrites and foolish, but often does so with a sense of humor, and certainly allows some of the bad people to defend their actions. I found a number of the poems interesting and thoughtful. A number of them made me smile.
Masters’ verse is homey and comfortable most of the time, something that has caused some readers to criticize it. There are places where the book is a bit more prose like that poetic, but on the whole, I think it powerful in its accessibility. And its populist perspective is one that resonates with me, particularly as we become aware that those with power and fame only pretend to care what the everyday woman and man thinks and believes.

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