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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Poetry Friday--1915

On its website, The Poetry Foundation has been celebrating the publication of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T. S. Eliot, one hundred years ago this month in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse edited by Harriet Monroe. A featured article discusses the poem and how Ezra Pound hurried its publication along.

That particular year, 1915, saw the publication of many of the poets whose works continue to be read in the 21st century--Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, Wallace Stevens, Sara Teasdale, and Louis Untermeyer. Also published in 1915 was Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology [811.4 MAS]. Some of the poems were originally published in a magazine titled Reedy's Mirror and were gathered, and added to, to make the Spoon River Anthology. An additional thirty-five poems were included in a 1916 edition.

In the Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1915: And Year Book of American Poetry, William Stanley Braithwaite said of Spoon River Anthology, "This has been the most widely discussed volume of verse published this year. There has been nothing like it before, and I doubt if there will ever be again." He went on to say it is, "a novel in verse; it is the first successful novel in verse we have had in American literature. It brings more character into its pages than have ever been brought into any American novel."

If you're not familiar with Spoon River Anthology, it is a collection of 244 epitaph poems portraying the citizens of the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois. Here is one of the poems from Reedy's Mirror, which went into the Spoon River Anthology, and also appeared in the Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1915:
Hannah Armstrong

I wrote him a letter asking him for old times' sake
To discharge my sick boy from the army;
But maybe he couldn't read it.
Then I went to town and had James Garber,
Who wrote beautifully, write him a letter;
But maybe that was lost in the mails.
So I travelled all the way to Washington,
I was more than an hour finding the White House.
And when I found it they turned me away,
Hiding their smiles. Then I thought:
"Oh, well, he ain't the same as when I boarded him
And he and my husband worked together
And all of us called him Abe, there in Menard."
As a last attempt I turned to a guard and said:
"Please say it's old Aunt Hannah Armstrong
From Illinois, come to see him about her sick boy
In the army."
Well, just in a moment they let me in!
And when he saw me he broke in a laugh,
And dropped his business as president,
And wrote in his own hand Doug's discharge,
Talking the while of the early days,
And telling stories.

In June of 1957, a radio adaptation of The Spoon River Anthology was broadcast on CBS radio. You can listen to it below:

For the Poetry Friday Round-Up this week, head over to Jama's Alphabet Soup. Jama always has something cookin' at her blog. Literally!


  1. Our theater program is quite wonderful, and years ago, our drama instructor did this play, yes, with middle school students. It was marvelous, and that year too, I had my students write their own poem, also lovely. It is quite a special book of poems, Diane. Aunt Hannah has quite a voice. Thanks for this bit of history, too.

    1. Aunt Hannah appealed to me for the Lincoln connection. I had done a bit of research on Lincoln many years ago and was always taken by his kindheartedness.

  2. Wonderful! Being an Aussie, I didn't know about this anthology, but gosh, I love novels in verse and am going to seek this out. Am also a huge TS Eliot fan and often recite bits of Prufrock, so amazed I hadn't noticed the centenary. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. I've heard of the SRA of course, but confess I haven't read it. Great to see this sample poem.

    1. When I read it a few years back, I was surprised how modern it seemed!