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date: 15 June 2024

Masters, Edgar Leelocked

Masters, Edgar Leelocked

  • Matthew J. Caballero


One of the most difficult accomplishments in the arts is to deliver a follow-up success. This dilemma is especially true in the case of the midwestern poet Edgar Lee Masters. In 1915, with the publication of what would become his greatest work, Spoon River Anthology, Masters gained immediate fame, and his voice was widely considered fresh and influential American poetry. His book received its share of criticism, both culturally and poetically, but contemporary writers such as Ezra Pound and Carl Sandburg lauded its expressionism and insight—comparing Masters's arrival to that of Walt Whitman's. Even today, this collection remains widely read and is considered a crucial text of early-twentieth-century poetry. The more than fifty works in Masters's canon (forty of which were published after Spoon River) did not bring the author the acclaim, both popularly and critically, that he enjoyed with the publication of Spoon River. Prolific though he was—writing plays, essays, and biographies, in addition to his verse, over the course of his forty-year career—his place in the American canon is still debated. As part of the “Chicago Renaissance,” which included writers such as Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, and Theodore Dreiser, much of Masters's writing focused on America's people, their lives and dreams. This movement contributed significantly to the important shift of “artistic expectation” away from the cultural power centers of New York and the East. Midwest poetics were still in their infancy, as were many of their communities, and the Chicago Renaissance introduced new aesthetics into the American literary tradition, namely, the regional Midwest voice. There is a populism about his poetry, a descendant of Whitman's heritage, and Masters is deeply concerned with the themes of atrophy and cultivation he witnessed in small-town America; his style reflects the ordinary rhythms of its language and life. For him, and for many of the characters whose wasted lives he depicts, the freedom of the romantic vision is critical to living life.


  • North American Literatures

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