Monday, January 09, 2006


I think that while Chicago Poems are great, and all of his poems are great, there's something about The People, Yes where he really knocked himself out. At the time when the country was at war, and he stopped what he was doing and he wrote this great thing for the people, I think that was important.
-Helga Sandburg Crile

It was July 2004, and we had just shot for five days in Marion, Indiana on our last documentary The Great American Quilt Revival (which is airing currently around the country on PBS). It was raining hard as Evan and I drove into Cleveland to sleep for the night. The dark skies and tired eyes played havoc on the driver, but we made it safely to a bed.

The next day was the first interview we conducted on this project, which, even then, had taken years to make happen. It was with Helga Sandburg Crile, Carl and Paula Sandburg's third and only surviving daughter. I started correspondance with her back in 1992 and she was kind to entertain my inquiries and poetry. We arrived at her house to barking and playful dogs, flowers blooming throughout the garden and a welcoming subject.

Here she is discussing her father and uncle, the photographer Edward Steichen.

Helga has been, since an early age, 'Carl Sandburg's daughter'. She enjoyed it, rebelled against it and ultimately became a creative force herself writing many books of poetry, fiction and biography. Sitting and talking with her you can see it in her eyes, hear it in certain words and phrases, bits and samples of her Father's personality.

Her interview was delightful, sentimental, revealing and surprisingly straightforward in her opinions on the life of her Father and where he fits into the 20th century literary history. Reading books that other people have written about him can sometimes separate Sandburg the real person from the character he becomes when you read about him. In moments like this all of that changes. Real people write, real people make history, real people become the characters we read about later. For Helga, we were talking about her dad... And once again a hundred years or more were compressed down to a mere instant.

But, you know, just go back to his Complete Poems. And if you have a child that is able to read, just a little bit, give him The Complete Poems. Don't tell him what he should read, and what poem is right for a child, for heaven's sake. Let the child go.
-Helga Sandburg Crile

And that is why I love what I do.

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