Today marks an interesting birthday, it is the birthday of Edwin Markham; an American poet, and one of the biggest pop-stars of his day. Going against his family’s wish that he stay on the farm, he worked his way through school and earned a degree in literature. Inspired by a painting, Markham’s poem “The Man with the Hoe” made the plight of the poor and working class the ’cause of the day’ for the literary crowd. Published first in San Francisco, and reprinted around the world, the poem made the poet a celebrity at the turn of the twentieth century.
The success of “The Man With The Hoe”, and the book that followed, made Edwin the preeminent pop-star poet of the day. Asked to speak at events as diverse as “Society” dinners, and labor hall meetings, Edwin used his renown to shed the light on the plight of the working poor. Having several schools named after him, and even being named Poet-Laureate of Oregon. But, as it is in the fickle life of a pop-star, Edwin’s star faded as quickly as it rose. The new breed of poets, such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound made Edwin’s poetry look dated and simplistic ( it rhymed). Though he would continue to write and publish for the rest of his life, he would never find the spot light again.
Once the darling of the dinner-crowd set, neither the pop-culture consumers nor history has been kind to Markham. Though regaled once as the best at his craft, Edwin is now consigned to the “Once Upon A Time” section in the dust-heap of history. Such is the life of a pop-star. Seems there is a lesson in there for today.