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Carl Sandburg

Author John Cech
Air Date 1/6/2000

Carl Sandburg Transcript

It’s Carl Sandburg’s birthday today. He was born on a corn-husk-filled mattress in 1878 in the prairie town of Galesburg, Illinois, to Swedish immigrant parents. “I don’t know who my ancestors were,” he once joked, “but we’ve been descending for a long time.” Beginning in Junior High, our English teachers would put on old scratchy records of his poems and we would hear his plaintive voice call to us:

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We were enthralled by his incantations, though we knew little about how his democratic thoughts had been sharpened by years of hard manual labor (he left school after the 8th grade and helped support his family delivering milk and newspapers, shoe-shining, harvesting, house-painting. He also spent a few years hoboing, did a brief stint in the army, and eventually managed to put himself through most of college, before he landed in Milwaukee, where he worked as an organizer for the Wisconsin Social Democratic Party and where, more importantly, he met Lilian Steichen in 1908. They married and moved to Chicago where Sandburg had a career as a journalist while he wrote his first volumes of poems and they raised their three daughters for whom Sandburg invented his incomparable Rootabaga Stories about the Village of Cream Puffs, Blixie Bimber, Slipfoot, Peter Potato Blossom Wishes, and Shush Shush the Big Buff Banty Hen Who Laid an Egg in the Postmaster’s Hat. And these stories are all just as fresh today as they were in 1922, when they were published, spilling out into the world like the children of Hot Cookie Pan and Splinters.

Sandburg went on to become one of America’s most famous performing poets, a Pulitzer prize winning historian of Abraham Lincoln, and one of those wonderful voices from our progressive past that still manage to be heard over the clatter of our present, whispering to us.

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Posted in Poetry