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Spoon River Anthology

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  8,974 ratings  ·  678 reviews
From "Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology was an immediate commercial success when it was published in 1915. Unconventional in both style and content, it shattered the myths of small town American life. A collection of epitaphs of residents of a small town, a full understanding of Spoon River requires the reader to piece together narratives f ...more
Paperback, 112 pages
Published 2006 by Hard Press (first published 1915)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  8,974 ratings  ·  678 reviews

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Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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!
Aug 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, favorites
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.
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jon Nakapalau
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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?
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 fro ...more
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 boy ...more
Sep 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Antholo ...more
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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 ma
This was so very lovely.
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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,
Ben Loory
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 pronou ...more
Jun 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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'
Apr 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, classic
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
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. Mu
Emily Dybdahl
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily by: David Dybdahl
Shelves: american-lit
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 ...more
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
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 cop ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
May 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2010, southern, poetry
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 t
Michael Perkins
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-reads, poetry
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
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 nu ...more
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 brillian ...more
Geniuswill42 Ramsey
May 31, 2009 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Dec 13, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Kathy
Shelves: text-checked, poetry, usa
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.
Jan 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was so good and so creepy
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
surprising and experimental. I’m in the area where this book was read, so I’m reading this as a form of radical tourism
Sep 15, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, notable
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 plac
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
Oct 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetic, 2009
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

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Edgar Lee Masters (Garnett, Kansas, August 23, 1868 - Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, March 5, 1950) was an American poet, biographer, and dramatist. He is the author of Spoon River Anthology, The New Star Chamber and Other Essays, Songs and Satires, The Great Valley, The Serpent in the Wilderness An Obscure Tale, The Spleen, Mark Twain: A Portrait, Lincoln: The Man, and Illinois Poems. In all, Master ...more

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