Edgar Albert Guest, not to be confused with Edgar Allen Poe, was a prolific poet known for his light-hearted and sometimes humorous poems. Actually, Guest was one of the few poets who had a normal-ish life. It seems like every other poet had a terrible childhood, usually involving boarding school.
Edgar Guest held the title of Poet Laureate of Michigan, and rightly so. He published over twenty volumes of poetry, and wrote over 11,000 poems! He was born in England, but his family moved to Michigan, in 1891 when Edgar was ten.
Edgar Albert Guest was born to Edwin and Julia Guest on August the 21, 1881 in Birmingham, England. His family moved to Detroit, Michigan when Edgar, or Eddie, as he was also know, was a young boy. When his father Edwin lost his job just two years after they had moved, eleven year old Edgar Guest started working odd jobs after school. When Eddie was thirteen, he started working as a copy boy for the Detroit Free Press. Edgar’s father died four years later, so Edgar had to work full time at the newspaper company. To work full time, Edgar dropped out of high-school. He eventually worked up from being a copy-boy, to holding a job in the news department.
Three years after working for the Detroit Free Press, he became a cub reporter. By the end of his first year at the newspaper- which would have been his senior year at school- he had earned the reputation of a scrappy reporter. The thought to write poems did not even occur to him until he was seventeen. At the time, it was his job to gather items from the newspapers with which the Detroit Press exchanged papers for use as fillers. Many of the items he culled were poems. Edgar Guest figured he might as well write his own poems instead of clipping them. Therefore, he submitted one of his own inspirations to editor Arthur Mosley. Eddie, who was only seventeen and a high-school drop-out, might have been seen as an upstart. Nevertheless, Mosley published the verse. On December 11, 1898, Edgar Guest had a poem in the newspaper. More contributions eventually led to a weekly column, which first appeared in 1904, and finally a daily column, “Breakfast Table Chat”. “Breakfast Table Chat” eventually syndicated to over 300 newspapers across the United States.
Edgar Guest married Nellie Crossman in 1906, and the couple had three children. Guest had always including verse in his writing, but in 1908, as he stood in the rain as the solitary mourner for a journalist like him who had been forgotten, Guest resolved to escape that fate by becoming a specialist. From then on, almost all of his writing was in meter and rhyme. The readers loved it. Requests started to come, asking where they could find collections of his poetry. Guest talked with his brother Harry, a typesetter, and they bought a case of type. They started to publish books. Harry could prepare up to eight pages- provided the verses didn’t have too many “e’s” in them – before he had to print what he had and break up the forms for eight more pages. They printed 800 copies of the 136-page book, which they named “Home Rhymes.” Two years later, in 1911, they printed “Just Glad Things,” but upped the press order to produce 1,500 prints. They published their third book, in 1914, but Guest had some doubts about the large press run – 3,500 copies. The third book sold out in just two years. More books ensued, and Guest wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry in all! Sales ran into the millions and his most popular volume, “It Takes a Heap o’ Livin’,” sold over a million copies by itself.
Much of Edgar Albert Guest’s work was a category of poetry called ‘light verse’. Light verse is often humorous, entertaining to the reader, and can be on a frivolous or on a more serious subject. Edgar Guest is one of the best remembered of this type of poet. His verse provides a direct link to the sentimental tradition of the previous century. Guest’s poems for the most part are fun and lighthearted. He has poems named “Lemon Pie” and “Home” and “The Kick under the Table”. He wrote many poems on food, desserts, and home experiences. He wrote poems about angel food cake, and frosting, as well as poems about fishing. His popularity led to long-running radio shows, appearances on television, in Hollywood, in banquet halls, and meeting rooms across America. In the end Edgar A. Guest remained a newspaper man. In 1938 he told “Editor& Publisher,” “I’ve never been late with my copy and I’ve never missed an edition. And that’s seven days a week.” For over thirty years, every day, the Free Press printed a poem of Guest’s on its pages. Edgar worked for free press for more than sixty years. In fact, Edgar A. Guest was the first and only Michigan Poet Laureate, a title he held from 1952 until his death. When Guest died in August, 1959, he was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery, and he is remembered as the “Poet of the People.”
A Vanished Joy By Edgar Albert Guest
When I was but a little lad of six and seven and eight,
One joy I knew that has been lost in customs up-to-date,
Then Saturday was baking day and Mother used to make,
The while I stood about and watched, the Sunday pies and cake;
And I was there to have fulfilled a small boy’s fondest wish,
The glorious privilege of youth- to scrape the frosting dish!
On Saturdays I never left to wander far away-
I hovered near the kitchen door on Mother’s baking day;
The fragrant smell of cooking seemed to hold me in its grip,
And naught cared I for other sports while there were sweets to sip;
I little cared that all my chums had sought the brook to fish;
I chose to wait that moment glad when I could scrape the dish.
Full many a slice of apple I have lifted from a pie
Before the upper crust went on, escaping Mother’s eye;
Full many a time my fingers small in artfulness have strayed
Into some sweet temptation rare which Mother’s hands had made;
But eager-eyed and watery-mouthed, I craved the greater boon,
When Mother let me clean the dish and lick the frosting spoon.
The baking days of old are gone, our children cannot know
The glorious joys that childhood owned and loved so long ago.
New customs change the lives of all and in their heartless way
They’ve robbed us of the glad event once known as baking day.
The stores provide our every need, yet many a time I wish
Our kids could know that bygone thrill and scrape the frosting dish.
Haralson, Eric. Encyclopedia of American Poetry. Illinois: Chicago, 2001. Print.