Arthur Chapman (poet)

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For other people named Arthur Chapman, see Arthur Chapman (disambiguation).

Arthur Chapman (June 25, 1873 – December 4, 1935) was an early twentieth-century American poet and newspaper columnist.[1][2] He wrote a subgenre of American poetry known as Cowboy Poetry. His most famous poem was Out Where the West Begins.[3]

Out Where the West Begins[edit]

Circa 1910, after reading in an Associated Press report of a conference of the governors of the western states at which the geographic beginning of the U.S. West was disputed, he hastily composed what was to become his most famous poem, "Out Where the West Begins," celebrating the people and the land of the frontier. The first of its three seven-line stanzas ran "Out where the handclasp's a little stronger, / Out where the smile dwells a little longer, / That's where the West begins; / Out where the sun is a little brighter, / Where the snows that fall are a trifle whiter, / Where the bonds of home are a wee bit tighter, / That's where the West begins." The poem was an immediate sensation, widely quoted, often imitated, and more often parodied. (One popular anonymous take-off read, in part, "Where the women boss and the men folk think / That toast is food and tea is a drink; / Where the men use powder and the wrist watch ticks, / And everyone else but themselves are hicks / That's where the East begins.") According to the dust jacket of Chapman's 1921 novel, Mystery Ranch, "To-day ["Out Where the West Begins"] is perhaps the best-known bit of verse in America. It hangs framed in the office of the Secretary of the Interior at Washington. It has been quoted in Congress, and printed as campaign material for at least two Governors. . . . [Chapman's poems possess] a rich Western humor such as had not been heard in American poetry since the passing of Bret Harte."

The popularity of "Out Where the West Begins" led Chapman to arrange for its publication in book form, and in 1916 he produced Out Where the West Begins, and Other Small Songs of a Big Country, a modest fifteen-page volume issued by Carson-Harper in Denver. It was an immediate success and Houghton Mifflin of Boston and New York immediately offered to publish a larger collection. Out Where the West Begins, and Other Western Verses, as it was renamed, appeared in 1917 with fifty-eight poems on ninety-two pages. The title poem was widely reprinted on postcards and plaques. It was frequently set to music, first in 1920, and achieved a separate life on the concert stage.

Chapman followed the popular volume in 1921 with the equally successful Cactus Center: Poems of an Arizona Town, containing thirty poems and running to 123 pages. The Literary Review wrote of the verse, "In vigor of style, [it] irresistibly suggests a transplanted Kipling" (19 Feb. 1921, p. 12).

The Move East[edit]

In 1919 Chapman moved to New York City, where he lived in a fashionable neighborhood on the east side of Manhattan and took a job as a staff writer for the Sunday edition of the New York Tribune. He held that position until his retirement in 1925, the year after the newspaper became the New York Herald Tribune. After his wife died in 1923 Chapman married Kathleen Caesar, an editor of the Bell Syndicate; no children were born of his second marriage. He wrote fiction and nonfiction throughout his career as a journalist and continued after he retired. His first effort at book-length fiction, Mystery Ranch (1921), combined the genres of western adventure and murder mystery. The Literary Review dismissed it as "melodramatic" and stated that it provided "little for the seeker of literary values" (19 Nov. 1921, p. 190), but the New York Times more charitably credited Chapman, "known heretofore as a poet of the West," with being "a clever technician in a new field" (13 Nov. 1921). The book had modest commercial success, but Chapman's second novel, John Crews (1926), an equally stereotypical adventure-romance of frontier life, sold better. Described by the New York Herald Tribune as "a lively and continuously readable yarn," it was successful enough to have a reprint edition by another publisher in its first year (28 Mar. 1926).

In 1924 Chapman capitalized on his reputation as an expert on the U.S. West with the publication of The Story of Colorado, Out Where the West Begins, a richly illustrated history of the state. His final book was an extensively researched and detailed volume, The Pony Express: The Record of a Romantic Adventure in Business (1932), complete with bibliography, index, and maps. Both were well received by the critics and the public.

It was, however, for his poetry that Chapman became and remained famous. His western dialect poems and "Out Where the West Begins" continued to be quoted and to appear in anthologies long after his death, and both of his volumes of verse were brought out in new editions by other publishers as late as 2010.


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