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Chasar Everyday Excerpt

Chasar Everyday Excerpt

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Published by: Columbia University Press on Nov 06, 2012
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02/05/2015

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Introduction
 Poetry and Popular Culture
 T
he
1918
mayoral race in St. Paul, Minnesota, was in part a referen-dum on popular poetry. That year Democratic candidate Laurence C.Hodgson (
1874
1937
)—a Twin Cities newspaper personality betterknown as the poet “Larry Ho”—defeated his Republican and Labor party challengers to become the city’s twenty-eighth mayor. Reecting on theelection a year later the
 Modern Highway
newsletter reminded readers of an ironic disconnect between the world of poetry and the world of politicsthat had come to the fore of the campaign, explaining that even thoughHodgson’s “plurality was a big one,” only by “some queer caper of fate”could a “poet-giver”—a man “whose greatest pastime is sunshine making”and “who could see a shining soul right through the dirtiest skin of theleast inviting newsboy”—have been elected to public ofce.
1
A Minnesotanative, Hodgson had been a political reporter for the
St. Paul 
 
 Dispatch
, the
 Minneapolis Times
, and the
 Minneapolis Tribune
and had worked in govern-ment before, most notably as secretary to the speaker of the house as wellas secretary to two St. Paul mayors, including his immediate predecessor, Vivian R. Irwin. But as the
 Modern Highway
suggests, it was the poetry Hodgson published as Larry Ho that the opposition identied as a poten-tial weakness and election-year issue. Hodgson’s competition, the
 Modern
Copyrighted Material
 
2
Introduction
 Highway
recalled, “sneered at the idea of a poet making a good mayor—sneered publicly” (
10
). That negative campaign strategy appears to have backred, however, forinstead of casting doubt on Hodgson’s political acumen—one can certainly imagine a poet “who is always nding something to sing about in the doingsof the dullest day” being characterized as soft on crime—Hodgson’s “poet-giver” alter ego ultimately served, like Bill Clinton’s saxophone, to highlight his human side and inspired people to consider his candidacy more seriously (ibid.). Indeed, the
 Modern Highway
recalled, “that reminded a great many people of the identity of this Laurence C. Hodgson. They began gettingdown scrapbooks lled with his poems, for his verse and scraps of philosophy are the kind that nd their way pretty regularly into scrapbooks” (ibid.). Asan election-year poster from
1918
suggests, Democrats in fact turned the issueof Hodgson’s extracurricular activities into a strength, advertising his doubleidentity for maximum public appeal (see gure
0
.
1
). Larry Ho not only wonthe election in
1918
, but he also went on to win three more terms as mayor of St. Paul before returning to the newspaper business in
1931
.In many ways the story of Hodgson and his readers is not unique. LikeBerton Braley, Anne Campbell, Edgar A. Guest, Don Marquis, Walt Mason,James Metcalfe, Jay Sigmund, Frank L. Stanton, Helen Welshimer, and EllaWheeler Wilcox, Hodgson was part of a modern America that was crazy forpoetry—that wrote and published it, read it as part of everyday life, bought it, collected and shared it, and afforded it a great deal of prestige for its many aesthetic, emotional, social, political, and even commercial ways of commu-nicating. Known as the “people’s poet,” Guest, for example, authored morethan twenty books, regularly wrote advertising verse, and for thirty yearspublished a poem each day in a
 Detroit Free Press
feature that was syndicated to more than
300
newspapers nationwide and carefully saved by people likeHodgson’s St. Paul scrapbookers (see gure
0
.
2
). In
1955
the University of Michigan awarded Guest an honorary degree—seven years before it would bestow the same recognition on its ofcial poet-in-residence, Robert Frost.Called “Eddie Guest’s Rival” by 
Time
magazine, Campbell began publishingin the
 Detroit 
 
 News
in
1922
and wrote a poem six days a week for twenty-ve years, producing more than seven thousand ve hundred poems, whose syn-dication reportedly earned her up to $
10
,
000
per year. A 
1947
event mark-ing her silver anniversary at the paper drew fteen hundred fans, includingDetroit’s mayor and the president of Wayne State University, who claimed 
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