Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, October 29, 2004


Sandburg could tell grim stories with stoic understatement, embroider whims with fanciful riffs, and bolster jeremiads with rolling oratorical flourishes. He had wide contacts across the American landscape and deep sympathies with people. He had passion and humor. He had style.

He was an early practitioner of the bardic style, reciting his poems in public and singing the folk songs he had collected to his own guitar accompaniment. Ginsberg and the other beats tended to pooh-pooh him, maybe because by the 1950s he was a revered 70-something “homespun” America booster. But their energetic readings and long-breath lines share with Sandburg a common source in Whitman, a source that Sandburg kept current and available by his example. The example of the Beats inspired Marc Smith of Chicago to found the poetry slam movement in Chicago in the 1980s. Since Smith shared a setting with Sandburg’s most famous poem, he acknowledged his predecessor in a poem that built counterpoint across Sandburg’s classic. (Smith’s poem is in the slammin’ anthology Aloud! which came out in the early ’90s.) Sandburg’s example formed part of Smith’s inspiration for a vocal public poetry, and despite lots and lots of Smith’s followers not knowing their pre-slam poetic history, Sandburg’s influence is on the scene.

Even though in later life Sandburg completely absorbed into the American mainstream that he had been excluded from as an impoverished hobo, had railed against as a bohemian modernist, and had struggled against as a socialist activist, he never entirely lost his poetry chops, and some of his later poems parallel fellow Whitman-disciple Neruda’s late style.

OK, that’s enough about Sandburg. For now. I think.

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