Saturday, August 06, 2011

09: Spoon River Anthology

Having attended the cast party for the local play I sang in this afternoon, I was inspired to post my first collection of poems! I first read this book in an awesome hybrid American lit/American history/performance class in high school (I *desperately* want to teach a class like this one day, but for British history and lit!). We performed it, and the next year I came back to direct the thing for that year's class. I played Minerva and the drunk parson my year, and the year I directed the teachers also talked me into playing Minerva's dad. Thank goodness I watched enough Red Dwarf to have a passably horrible British accent!

Spoon River Anthology
Edgar Lee Matthews
Published: 1915

Look! I'm getting my shelves back in order! I love this process, because I'm a dweeb. I'd've finished by now if I hadn't decided to reorganize most of them...

Why?: In high school, I was part of a class that inspired a lot of my teaching, called American Studies. This class combined American history and literature, with an emphasis on acting and creativity. We had debates as historical figures, reenacted major events in history, and traveled in imaginary prairie schooners across the western plains. We also put on plays, including an adaptation of Spoon River Anthology. The haunting, free form poems have stuck with me, and I still love to flip through and delve into this world of life and death that Masters so beautifully constructed. Unlike many books of poetry, Spoon River must be read in its entirety for all the layers of meanings and relationships to reveal themselves. A fine, upstanding family doctor is revealed to have helped a young girl end her life, and pages later her father speaks as well of being an outsider in Spoon River. Masters’ use of language is beautiful, and although this is a collection of poems told by the dead, the focus is still on life, with all its beauty and ugliness.

Gist: In a cemetery in Spoon River, the dead rise and tell of their lives. Some led everyday lives, other incredible ones. There are mothers, fathers, politicians, doctors, and factory workers, each sharing his or her story. The stories intertwine as well, so you might learn that the town’s favorite son in, in fact, the illegitimate son of a grieving mother, or a couple who appear deeply in love…actually are!

I'm amazed I got this picture without one or three cat noses in it. This is my office chair, which they consider THEIR office chair. I'm allowed to rent it from time to time in return for their room and board.

Quote: From “21. Minerva Jones” This was one of the parts I played in high school, and it’s still one of the most heart-breaking poems in the collection.

And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up, / Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice. / Will some one go to the village newspaper, / And gather into a book the verses I wrote –I/ thirsted so for love! /I hungered so for life!

Bonus Trivia: A number of composers have written music for the Spoon River Anthology, from classical to alternative country to playwrights. It has been adapted by American, British, and Spanish composers. Spoon River is available free on-line.

All the pictures are bad because I'm taking them in the middle of the night! But you can see my copy here, which is highlighted with the poems that were included the year I directed the play version of the collection.

Perfect For: Ages 15+, poetry fans

Fiction, Poetry
Keywords: Drama, History, Romance, Humor

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