Guest, Edgar A. 1881-1959
(Full name Edgar Albert Guest) American journalist, and poet.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Guest was the foremost American writer of mass-circulation newspaper and magazine verse. Sentimental, homiletic, and inspirational, his work was not esteemed by serious readers of poetry, but enjoyed enormous success with the general public. Guest's poems proclaim and celebrate the domestic, industrious, patriotic, and religious virtues, and are characterized by common phrases, a folksy idiom, regular meters, word inversion, humor, nostalgia, and regular rhyme schemes.
Born in England, Guest was brought to the United States when he was ten, and began his writing career in 1895 at the age of fourteen when he was hired as a copy boy at the Detroit Free Press. He rose to cub reporter and began contributing verse soon after. He began a weekly column of verse and observation in 1904, which soon appeared daily, and at its height was syndicated in over three hundred papers. With his brother he published privately the first of the many collections of his verse. Soon, however, the Detroit Rotarians and then a commercial house began publishing them. He enjoyed commercial success throughout his life, appeared on radio in the 1930s and on television in the early 1950s, and was honored by the Boy Scouts of America in 1951 with the Silver Buffalo award. When he died in 1959, the flags of Detroit , by order of the mayor, were flown at half staff.
Throughout his career, Guest's work was uniform and predictable. No piece stood far above any other. The most significant work in Guest's canon, however, is the 1916 volume which propelled him to fame, A Heap o' Livin'. It touches on Guest's principle theme: celebrating domestic family life. His World War I volume of patriotic verses Over Here was distinguished by being bound in khaki and distributed by the army to the troops in Europe.
Critical ReceptionGuest's verse reflects the sensibility of his era, and is hardly read today. Those who enjoyed Guest's verses admired them for their sentiment and skill. Those who were dismayed by his success and found his verses banal were generally at a loss for comment, and in place of critiquing, resorted to parodying the verses and their values. Guest himself made no pretensions to poetry or sophistication but said he was "a newspaperman who wrote verse for folks."