By Mike Chasar
Columbia University Press, $27.50, 302 pages
Mike Chasar, an assistant professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, takes us on a sentimental journey back into the 20th century, a time when, “… America was crazy for poetry. “Poetry was on the radio, daily newspapers, and advertising jingles, used by Madison Avenue ad men, greeting cards, and kept and shared in scrapbooks that were passed down from one generation to the next. Iowa novelist Ruth Suckow wrote in the American Mercury that her state’s literary culture… “is snatched at by everybody – farmer boys, dentists, telegraph editors in small towns, students, undertakers, insurance agents and nobodies.” In fact, for 40 years, the Burma Shave Company urged the public with jingle writing contests for their billboards. In 1933, at their zenith, there were over 7,000 road signs in forty-four states using six hundred individual poems…of patriotism and road safety signs. Chasar claims that before rap, there was Burma Shave.
Through Chasar’s extensive literary research, Chasar strives to prove today’s poetry has not died, nor have been marginalized to funerals and weddings, but fully blooming into the 21 century. Chasar states that over 100,000 poems per year are published online and in print journals. However, Chasar’s delivers a tough sell when he equates Burma Shave jingles, (low brow poetry), with literary poetry (high brow), and namely Language poetry of the 60’s and 70’s. While Language Poetry emphasized the reader’s role in interpreting a poem, it’s avante garde, post modernist approach demanded a sophisticated and literary reader.
A brilliantly written book, startling the reader with his thorough research and analysis of the evolution of poetry through the 20th and 21 centuries.
Reviewed by Sheila Erwin