Edgar Guest: America's most famous poet, and he came from Detroit


He may be largely forgotten today, at least partly because his approach to dialect writing is to our eyes and ears “close to unreadable.” But the online journal Slate has a reminder from poet Robert Pinksy about who was the top dog of American poetry.

The most famous poet in American history sold 1 million copies of his book, back in the days when 1 million was a lot. He had his own weekly radio show and even, for a while, his own television show. His poetry was syndicated and appeared in hundreds of newspapers. For many years he published a new poem every day—and he did not miss deadlines. And yet, as fame goes, few people today know the name of Edgar Guest (1881-1959).

OK, that’s “top dog” in a specific, commercial-mass following sense, but a sense and a career worth thinking about. And worth noting for Detroiters since he moved here from Birmingham, England, as a lad of 10 and went to work, as a teen, for the Detroit Free Press, where he began his career in print.

His Wikipedia entry supplies these interesting details:

Guest penned some 11,000 poems which were syndicated in some 300 newspapers and collected in more than 20 books, including A Heap o' Livin' (1916) and Just Folks (1917). Guest was made poet laureate of Michigan, the only poet to have been awarded the title.

Pinsky’s consideration of the Guest story isn’t just about how a poet fell from popular consciousness; it’s also about how our idea of what poetry is and should be has shifted from the “reactionary, nostalgic, populist mode of Edgar Guest” to another language entirely. Less kindly, there's this Dorothy Parker dig from Guest's Wikipedia entry:

"I'd rather flunk my Wasserman test / Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest."




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