Monday, April 16, 2007

New York buzzed with Carl Sandburg 'Modernist'

At least for a few hours on Wednesday April 4th New York City was talking Sandburg. Poems were read and comments made, Lukas Foss delicately played a segment of the Cantata Sandburg inspired him to write, and the poet’s character was sketched out before an attentive audience at New York University.

Amidst it all was a prevailing theme: Sandburg means something. Sandburg did something different. Sandburg contributed something unusual to the development of poetry and American history. Readers might be surprised to find this talked about as a “new idea”. But for many who were introduced to poetry years ago in grade school with his simple “Fog” he may be seen as a gentle, sentimental, and one-dimensional poet, if he is remembered at all. It’s a bit like a John Lennon being remembered only for a Nike commercial jingle.

What is even more interesting is that notable critics, writers and other poets have held this assumption. There are multiple reasons for this, including his celebrity status in his later years, academic bias’ for more ‘refined’ poetry, competition from contemporary writers (the first half of the twentieth century did produce a fantastic range of American poetry) and the all too common rebellion and rejection of the previous generation’s heroes and ideals.

The event, curated by writer, Paul Berman posed the question: “Sandburg, Modernist?”
The responses coming from the speakers seemed to be a resounding “yes.” Take a look at the attached clips from the event that will give you a better sense of the conversation.

Here is a clip from our interview with Geoffry OBrien the next day giving the discussion on Sandburg some addtional context.


Anonymous said...

I am a Canadian . Today was a tragic day for America and the world. I wish that the likes of Sandburg and Whitman were here to console us all.

An engineer and a few other things by training, I do not have and deep or scholarly understanding of poetry, but Carl Sandburg was my favourite poet in the 60’s . I bought his “complete works” while working at Bell Labs in NJ ! Througout my life I followed his advice and “tied my hat to the saddle” and rode.. rode …rode .. through life.

Last night a nephew sent me a recent photograph of two deer with their heads down, in the gloaming, munching on tall brown wintered grass on the back acreage of his country property. I did my best to transform his image into fine art and then searched Bartlett for a Sandburg Poem with the word “deer”. My first find was uplifting, and so I framed a poster with the deer and these rediscovered Sandburg lines (keyword deer omitted!).

“…Have you seen a red sunset drip over one of my cornfields,
the shore of night stars, the wave lines of dawn up a wheat valley?
Have you heard my threshing crews yelling in the chaff of a strawpile
and the running wheat of the wagonboards, my cornhuskers,
my harvest hands hauling crops, singing dreams of women, worlds, horizons?…”

Throughout today I wondered how and where Sandburg travelled to visualize and create such beautiful word images. Then, as midnight approached Goggle took me to your Sandburg site where I reviewed the video clips from New York.

The Youtube snaps indicated that he was many things to many people: but if my recall is correct, clip selections did not talk about the great humanity, warmth, wholesomeness, joy, crispness, or great expectations that Sandburg called us to witness, deliver, share or dream about. The above lines from Prairie do all of that for me – and while I was not a cornhusker, I wanted to be transported to their fields, I wanted to see their sunsets and their night stars.

A few days ago it stuck me that perhaps we cannot really share the glow and feeling that we have about a Sandburg poem. Indeed, the more analysis that I do of any poem (e.g. Arnold’s , Dover Moon), the more I age and lose the innocence of my first encounter. So, I do not attempt to analyse my favourites anymore. .

Thank you for stirring this wanderlust.
I too love Sandburg’s gifts. On occasion and when required it has been both a quiet place and an inspiration.


Howard Leigh
Ottawa, Ontario

My 1996 website has been moth balled !

Anonymous said...

I am on the BOD of the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site at the birthplace home in Galesburg, IL.
I have written a number of short biographies and articles on Sandburg. During our annual Carl Sandburg Days Festival I had the honor of meeting his daughter, Helga.

I had wondered why Sandburg called his wife "Paula." After hours of research I learned it was a Luxenbourg word meaning "Pussy Cat" finding it was a nick name he likely "Americanized."