Poetry lovers celebrate life, works of Carl Sandburg

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The words of author Carl Sandburg, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and stacks of poetry anthologies transformed a sparsely decorated meeting room at the Cape Girardeau Public Library transforms into a literary coven Monday night.

Warming their fingers around Styrofoam cups of steaming coffee and nibbling on cookies and snacks, nine local poetry lovers -- including a writer, a housekeeper and a watercolorist -- recited their favorite Sandburg poems and discussed the man and his times.

They were gathered for this month's Poetry Coffee House at the library. Event organizer Marilyn Hutchings, a reference librarian, chose Sandburg for the topic because his birthday was Jan. 6, 1878. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner died July 22, 1967.

Sandburg was born in a three-room cottage in Galesburg, Ill., and quit school after the eighth grade to work a variety of jobs. He delivered milk, harvested ice, laid bricks, threshed wheat and shined shoes before traveling as a hobo in 1897. Observing the sharp contrast between rich and poor developed in him a distrust of capitalism and colored his later writings.

Herb Taylor, 74, of Cape Girar-deau enjoys Sandburg's works and remembers when he appeared on a television news broadcast to endorse one of the Kennedy brothers for president.

"Because of my age, I can remember when Carl Sandburg was known as a national celebrity," Taylor told the group. "He was quite well known."

Audio-visual presentation

In addition to reciting poetry, the group listened to an album brought by Arthur Wilhite of Cape Girardeau containing folk music sung by Sandburg. Renate DeBlois of Cape Girardeau brought photos from a trip to Sandburg's North Carolina home and goat farm.

Hutchings spoke about Sandburg's service in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and his enrollment into Lombard College. Sandburg adopted socialist views before leaving college in his senior year. His first book of verse, "In Reckless Ecstasy," was printed in 1904. He later worked for the Wisconsin Social Democratic Party, writing and distributing political pamphlets.

Sandburg was also a reporter for the Chicago Daily News before earning acclaim for his published poetry and children's works. He produced a two-volume biography, "Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years," in 1926. He completed four more volumes, "Abraham Lincoln: The War Years," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. He won his second Pulitzer for poetry in 1951.

In much of his works, Sandburg focused on the plight of poor workers -- even prostitutes.

"You can see why they called him the 'people's poet' because he really cared about the people on the fringes of society," Taylor said. "I'm a partisan. I have no objectivity when it comes to Carl Sandburg. I'm just nuts about him."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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