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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Seeing the moment

“Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.” – Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg said he never set out to win any prizes for his writing and, in fact, wanted to “write my own way,” even though that often was at odds with what his contemporaries were doing.  All that did, of course, was win him most of the major prizes, including three Pulitzers – the only poet to ever win that many.

He actually won two for poetry and one for his literature, winning the first in 1919 for Corn Huskers, then the second in 1940 for the second volume of his two-volume masterpiece Abraham Lincoln, still considered one of the definitive biographical works on our 16th President.  In 1951 he won a third Pulitzer for his Complete Poems. 

 Carl Sandburg

Like so many great writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Sandburg began his writing career as a journalist (for the Chicago Daily News).    And, while he is most known for his poetry, particularly about his adopted city, his historical work, biographies, novels, children's literature, and film reviews also were among the best pieces of his day. And, in his “spare” time, Sandburg collected and edited books of ballads and folklore.

He truly enjoyed unrivaled appeal as a poet, perhaps because the breadth of his experiences connected him with so many strands of American life.  At his death in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson observed, “Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America.”

Arguably, Sandburg’s best-known poem may be Chicago – City of the Big Shoulders – but I’ve always liked the whimsical Fog.  What a wonderful ability with words.


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

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