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Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems    by Carl Sandburg order for
Carl Sandburg
by Carl Sandburg
Order:  USA  Can
Gramercy, 2001 (1992)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

America's Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize, in 1940 for a six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, and in 1952 for his collected poems. However, his most prized recognition came in 1965 -- a Life Membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In the book's Introduction, Christopher Moore honors Sandburg as the 'quintessential poet of the people', quoting Roy Wilkins' admiration of Sandburg as 'a major prophet of Civil Rights in our time'.

This collection includes Sandburg's 'Chicago' verses. Though at the time he penned them, these poems were seen as controversial and shocking, Sandburg remained undaunted and stayed his newfound path. These verses, which touched on the city's social issues, are considered the finding of the poet's 'own unique voice'. In 'Chicago', Sandburg wrote, 'They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps ... you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children ... the marks of wanton hunger ... Come and show me another city with lifted head so proud to be alive'. Poignant and haunting are the poet's words in 'Lost' - 'Desolate and lone / All night long on the lake / Where fog trails and mist creeps, / The whistle of a boat / Calls and cries unendingly, / Like some lost child / In tears and trouble / Hunting the harbor's breast / And the harbor's eyes.'

Sandburg addresses the working lot in 'Subway', 'The Shovel Man', and 'A Teamster's Farewell Sobs En Route to a Penitentiary'. I am especially moved by 'The Right To Grief To Certain Poets About to Die', in which he writes, 'You for your grief and I for mine. / Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to. / I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky. / Now his three-year-old daughter / Is in a white coffin that cost him a week's wages ... They are glad it is gone for the rest of the family now will have more to eat ... I have a right to feel my throat choke about this. / You take your grief and I mine--see? ... and the hunky goes back to his job sweeping blood off the floor ... all day long.' In 'Who Am I?', Sandburg reveals, 'My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive in the universe', to which I can only add Amen.

A son, a husband, a father, a poet, a citizen, an activist, and a politician, Sandburg grew up in Illinois where he devoted twelve years of his life on the staff of the Chicago Daily Tribune. He traveled, served in the Spanish American War, married fellow socialist Lilian (Paula) Steichen, and gained prominence as a respected historian and 'the voice of the national bard'. Carl Sandburg stands among the greats.

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