News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 7, 2011

The office boy who became a poet

TERRE HAUTE — I made up my mind when I moved my home office out of the house last summer that I’d organize some of my books, that I’d categorize and catalogue them in a way that would help me find the one I wanted when I wanted it. I can’t say it worked out as well as I had hoped. Already, I have the overflow stacked on the floor and shoved into the spaces where previous tenants once lived. Gradually, expediency is replacing order, so fiction and non-fiction, biographies and novels, are scandalously co-mingling on my shelves.

I did, however, manage to reserve spots closest to my desk for the books that are the closest to me in other ways, and I doubt if they’re going to be reshuffled much over the years. Nearly a dozen of them are by Edgar Guest, the Everyman poet of whom most of us breathing these days have never heard. But for much of the last century, Guest was a household name, a man who published more than 20 books of poetry, had a long-running radio show and who appeared on television. He also attracted critics who considered his folksiness and humor as overly sentimental and hackneyed. One source I found in anticipation of writing this story said, “Guest’s verse reflects the sensibility of his era, and is hardly read today.”Nonetheless, I have enjoyed reading Guest’s poetry over the years. His is a comforting voice in a world that I fear has gone mad, and I find myself occasionally sitting in the lamplight of my space reading from one of his slender blue volumes.

I first read a fragment of one of Guest’s poems years and years ago, and in those days, before the Internet and search engine quick hits, I typed up the few lines I had on a creaky old typewriter and placed them under the glass of my office desk not knowing who wrote them. In time, I discovered Guest’s authorship, that the poem was called “Success,” and that those words would begin an off-again, on-again search for his old books. That is still a bit of a passion for me. The third stanza of the poem is still a favorite:

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    March 12, 2010