Spoon River Anthology

There is no Spoon River, IL. Check your map. Several towns argue that they stake their claim in being what Masters asserted to be this mythical town. Petersburg and Lewistown, two towns of otherwise minor repute seem closest… but it is so much better we haven’t an actual town… Spoon River’s residents are our next door neighbors, whether we live in Central Illinois or Central Florida, or southern Alaska.

Masters has written not fables, but the essence of American life. He hasn’t captured the life and times of 1915, but has instead recorded in 1915 the life and times of our present day America.

The same reason the paintings of Norman Rockwell makes sense is why Edgar Lee Masters poetry makes sense. To read the quick messages on the gravestone of one man, learning a little bit him, and something about a neighbor or two, we can learn a little about how we live in communities today.

Our lives, like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life” found out, interact and impact everyone we meet. Who we love, who we should love and who we reject. And when we die, others feel the loss. Masters has aptly put this in a humorous, yet insightful way into short verses.

The poems don’t rhyme. The meter is not solid, and the poetics aren’t intricate. They aren’t poems like Poe’s or Dickinson’s, not in the way they wrote American poems. Don’t expect iambic pentameter-based sonnets or villanelles. Expect a conversation, and listen in.

The poetry here is in the subtle use of social nuance. In the nuances are his insight and wit. Two readings will bring to light what you miss in the first.

Buy this book, read it slow. It reads faster than most poetry books, but don’t get caught in the temptation to zoom through each poem just because you can.

After you read it, see the play if it happens to be performed in your town.

I fully recommend it.