Review: Spoon River Anthology

The Spoon River Anthology is yet another of those books I last read in High School which came back up when I decided to branch out and read some more poetry. In this case, it was actually a whole production where each person in the class would memorize a different poem and then we made a platform in the woods, dressed up, and recited them. Pretty cool actually.


Perry Zoll
MY thanks, friends of the County Scientific Association,
For this modest boulder,
And its little tablet of bronze.
Twice I tried to join your honored body,
And was rejected,
And when my little brochure
On the intelligence of plants
Began to attract attention
You almost voted me in.
After that I grew beyond the need of you
And your recognition.
Yet I do not reject your memorial stone,
Seeing that I should, in so doing,
Deprive you of honor to yourselves.

The actual poems are hit or miss. Some are every bit as creepy as expected from a book chock full of epitaphs for an entire town. Some are amusing, particularly when you get several points of view of the same event in a row. Some are haunting and sad. Some are … really just hit or miss.

My particular favorites (you can read them all online, one source):

  • Amanda Barker - a town that sees love, a death born of hatred
  • Judge Somers - fancy pants language don’t matter much when you’re dead
  • Trainor, the Druggist - life in terms of chemistry analogies
  • Knowlt Hoheimer - a soldier, wondering what it really means to be a patriot
  • Lydia Puckett - related to Hoheimer, behind every soldier is a woman
  • Frank Drummer - cannot find his words, so tried to memorize the Encyclopedia
  • Margaret Fuller Slack - raised a family instead of a novel, “sex is the curse of life”
  • Deacon Taylor - a church going man who died of cirrhosis of the liver
  • Cooney Potter - worked hard in life and died before he could enjoy it
  • George Gray - afraid to take a chance on life
  • Franklin Jones - if only I had another year
  • Albert Schirding - outdone by his children
  • Elsa Wertman - gave up a child out of wedlock who never known, but she was proud
  • Roger Heston - contemplate free will and cows, get gored to death
  • Mrs. Sibley - SCIENCE!
  • Walter Simmons - pushed by parents, but never quite lived up to their dreams
  • Edmund Pollard - bizarre imagery
  • Abel Melveny - a hopeful maker of the time, bought all the machines and never used them
  • Ida Frickey - a penniless girl who dreams of the more she should have had
  • Seth Compton - built a library lost without him
  • Richard Bone - wrote epitaphs for others, so he knew what they really meant
  • Dillard Sissman - dies in the desert, beautiful imagery
  • Shack Dye - everyone thought him stupid, but he saw the truth
  • Perry Zoll - a scientist rejected until he grew to reject them
  • Archibald Higbie - too good for Spoon River, but couldn’t get it out of him
  • Elmer Karr - murderer sent to prison and repented
  • Anne Rutledge - allegedly Abraham Lincoln’s first love
  • Mabel Osborne - gave everything and died of it
  • J. Milton Miles - the religious’ bells all sound the same
  • Willie Pennington - they called him simpleton, built a life of himself
  • John Ballard - cursed God and cursed the stars, tried to change too late
  • Alfonso Churchill - an astronomer, poetry of stars
  • Le Roy Goldman - rejecting the God who let friends and family die

Yeah I know, it’s like half of them. It would be interesting to see a graph of the relations between them all.

The late Mr. Jonathan Swift Somers, laureate of Spoon River planned The Spooniad as an epic in twenty-four books, but unfortunately did not live to complete even the first book. The fragment was found among his papers by William Marion Reedy and was for the first time published in Reedy’s Mirror of December 18th, 1914.

He may not have finished the epic planned, but through Spoon River, he shall be remembered.

Immortality is not a gift,
Immortality is an achievement;
And only those who strive mightily
Shall possess it.

Worth reading.