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Spoon River Verse

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Explore the Craft of Writing
American Verse


Spoon River Verse is a subgenre of Mask or Persona poetry. The term is inspired by the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, American Poet (1869-1950). The anthology is a series of poems written as if each poem was being spoken by the dead. The setting is a cemetery in an imaginary western town, Spoon River. The voices make up a 'history' of the town's past residents and their relationships.

The Spoon River poem is a poem of voice. The poem speaks from and for a person, not necessarily the poet. The subject, diction and imagery should reflect the character who is speaking through the poem.

The elements of the Spoon River Verse are:

  1. framed at the discretion of the poet.
  2. dramatic.
  3. written in the voice of a character of a particular time and place. Usually the voice comes from the grave. The person, the era, the location should all be heard through the words of the poem.

    Cora Lynn Williams 1834-1849 by Judi Van Gorder

    Ma'am, 'scuse me Ma'am,
    you, standin' at that stone.
    Sorry to bother,
    but I been tryin' to find my fam'ly,
    and I need help.

    Mama told me I'd be honored
    to marry up with Mr. Williams,
    he's a fine upstandin' man, an Elder,
    and Papa says, 'cause of him
    we only lost one wagon
    crossin' the Platte...

    When we got to the Salt Lake
    he begun right away buildin'
    a cabin for me and
    my new sister-wife, Marilda,
    she's older'n me and is mama to his little girl
    and two rowdy boys.
    Some day we will have two rooms.

    I dreamt of havin' a sweet baby of my own,
    it's a wife's duty to bear children,
    but I never thought it'd hurt so much.
    I heard Mrs. Griffin, she helps with the birthin',
    she said somthin' 'bout my baby bein' turned
    and me so small.
    I 'member red sticky blood,
    the sweat, the awful, stabbin' pain and bein' tired,
    so tired I just had to stop and sleep……
    then the cold, so cold it froze my bones.
    Was that my Mama I heard cryin'?
    I gotta find my Mama, my baby....
    Maybe you could find Mr. Williams for me,
    he'll know what to do.

    Here are a few of the ladies from the Spoon River Anthologyby Edgar Lee Masters1915.

    Ollie Mc Gee

    Have you seen walking through the village
    A Man with downcast eyes and haggard face?
    That is my husban who, by secret cruelty
    Never to be told, robbed me of my youth and my beauty;
    Till at last, wrinkled and with yellow teeth,
    And with broken pride and shameful humility,
    I sank into the grave.
    But what think you gnaws at my husband's heart?
    The face of what I was, the face of what he made me!
    These are driving him to the place where I lie.

    In death, therefore, i am avenged.



    Flossie Cabanis

    FROM Bindle's opera house in the village
    To Broadway is a great step.
    But I tried to take it, my ambition fired
    When sixteen years of age,
    Seeing "East Lynne," played here in the village
    By Ralph Barrett, the coming
    Romantic actor, who enthralled my soul.
    True, I trailed back home, a broken failure,
    When Ralph disappeared in New York,
    Leaving me alone in the city--
    But life broke him also.
    In all this place of silence
    There are no kindred spirits.
    How I wish Duse could stand amid the pathos
    Of these quiet fields
    And read these words.

    Amelia Garrick

    YES, here I lie close to a stunted rose bush
    In a forgotten place near the fence
    Where the thickets from Siever's woods
    Have crept over, growing sparsely.
    And you, you are a leader in New York,
    The wife of a noted millionaire,
    A name in the society columns,
    Beautiful, admired, magnified perhaps
    By the mirage of distance.
    You have succeeded,
    I have failed In the eyes of the world.
    You are alive, I am dead.
    Yet I know that I vanquished your spirit;
    And I know that lying here far from you,
    Unheard of among your great friends
    In the brilliant world where you move,
    I am really the unconquerable power over your life
    That robs it of complete triumph.

    Minerva Jones

    I AM Minerva, the village poetess,
    Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
    For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk,
    And all the more when "Butch" Weldy
    Captured me after a brutal hunt.
    He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers;
    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!





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