Friday, October 30, 2009

Playing Catch-up, Notes on Carl Sandburg

Sorry for the delay, I am finally getting around to transferring my hand written thoughts about Sandburg down. Here they are:

In class we discussed the face that Sandburg's poems may seem a bit aged or dated, and although this is almost impossible to avoid, I think he manages to write poetry that stands up to the test of time. Last Spring I attended a panel at the AWP conference that discussed the differences between works that are only relevant to their time period vs works that do stand up to the test of time. Many novels, poems or shorts stories fail to speak to future generations, because their audiences is alienated by references to pop culture, and the reader is unable to grab onto or fully understand the significance of the author's references. However, I think that an author's work can still speak to future generations, even if their style seems dated. For example, Theodor Dreiser, in "Sister Carrie," is writing a novel that very much reflects Chicago at the turn of the century. However, he avoids alienating the reader by referring to "a popular singer of the day," rather than referencing the actual singer. So although "Sister Carrie" is absolutely dated to a very specific time period, the reader does not feel the need to look up specific names in order to understand that Dreiser is referring to a popular singer of the day. What really stands out in the novel then, is the character of Carrie, who I at least, find to be a relatable character, a young woman in a new place, trying to find her place in the world. Scared, lonely, confused and seeking guidance are all feelings I know I can relate to as a young woman, and I imagine that most people, male or female have felt or feel this way at some point, so it is more important for the author to connect the reader to those sorts of themes, rather than trying to reach the reader through references to a specific time period that will not speak to a future generation in the same way.

I find that Carl Sandburg also manages to speak to all generations in this same sort of way. Walt Whitman, in his "Preface to Leaves of Grass," stated, "A great poem is for ages and ages in common, and for all degrees and complexions, and all departments and sects, and for a woman as much as a man and a man as much as a woman. A great poem is no finish to a man or woman but rather a beginning." I find this quote to speak to Sandburg's ability to draw in all readers of all generations. Although sometimes his word choice can be questionable, as far as approiate language, as we discussed in class, for the most part his language is clean, and speaks to such topics as, love, what it is to be happy or find happiness, friendship, and loneliness. These are themes that do not lose power or validity over the generations, and so poems such as, "At a Window," where speaks of what he is willing to give up in order to be left with love,
"Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,"

The poem goes on, and is on page 53 from out text. Everything in this poem speaks to past or future generations, because at the end of the day, no matter how old, or what year you are/were from, one needs to be loved.

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