david kherdian | nine * thirty-one * forty

14 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 240 | June 13, 2008

Poems for the Father #4
David Kherdian

in celebrations of Father’s Day, June 15, 2008

I discovered the work of David Kherdian sometime after the death of William Saroyan in 1981, when I went into a state of ethnic-American writer’s grief because losing Saroyan-the-Armenian writer with the huge walrus mustache was losing the foreign heart and soul of what it meant in this country to be from somewhere else—custom, language, ritual, family, food, faith, etc. (Let us all sing, “Tradition!”)—and put it all down on paper with compassion, humor, love…in praise of past, present, and a steady reach for the future…the American dream.

Saroyan caught it all—in stories, novels, essays, plays, such as “The Time of Your Life”–which was indeed both his time and ours, capturing on stage the comedy and tragedy of the human experience… “In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches.” Saroyran’s sense of self and place in the world (the messenger) was the stuff of which writers are made.

David Kerdian, who grew up ‘Armenian’ in Racine, Wisconsin, now lives in New York state, has kept much of this alive in his own work, following his own path. Different, of course–a different time, a somewhat different perspective. Yet grounded in the flavor and humanity of that vibrant ethnic setting–the American neighborhood.

Years ago, in reviewing one of his books I said: “One would be hard pressed to discover another writer in America who so entered the soul of his own neighborhood, the poetry in his past, and sung his joy so exquisitely as David Kherdian in MY RACINE.

Saroyan himself once said of Kherdian’s, ON THE DEATH OF MY FATHER AND OTHER POEMS, “The title poem is one of the best lyric poems in American poetry.”

Kherdian wrote me a few months ago—bringing me up to date on his life and times. He had returned to the East Coast after living on the West Coast a little too long. More importantly, he was coming back to Racine for a few days, to receive hometown honors for his writings. He mentioned ‘survival’ in his letter to me as well, a condition writers are prone to in the time of our own lives and said: “What a trial it is to be a poet,” said Kherdian, “ Did I tell you that Bill Saroyan said to me once: ‘We are all miserable beggars.’ “

So welcome to David Kherdian’s life and work. Check his website: www.davidkherdian.com, his long list of accomplishments. By all means, enjoy. He’s lived the life, knows the territory, has the words to tell it truly.

Take to heart the three poems below from a recent book of 60 poems, titled: LETTERS TO MY FATHER. A gift, indeed, to honor the father—every day of the year. –Norbert Blei.


When you put on your black
shoulder-strapped bathing suit
you became somehow
even more Armenian than
you were before.
I watched you enter
the water, swim
by yourself,
and then slowly return,
somehow separated
from the general surround.

I stood on the beach with
mother—or alone—
and watched you, strangely suited,
making even the water you stood in
seem foreign, forlorn.


I never understood that you
wanted me to spade the garden
with you so we could share
that garden’s work: the pleasure,
the joy, of growing food all
by ourselves, the two of us
together in our own backyard, .
Mother in the grape arbor
with work of her own.

No, I thought you wanted my help.
And this I was reluctant to give
because none of it interested me
at the time.

This chance for us to meet in this way
was missed. Because it didn’t work
out like that, it works out now
like this; conjuring you in a poem
while entering that garden again,
willingly turning the earth by your
side, watching as you stop to wipe
your brow, staring into space, sighing,
remembering the past,
your homeland, your
what you missed
that I long for now in you.


It must have been 1950. Racine, Wisconsin.
Was I nineteen. Was my father sixty
or sixty-one—the age I am now.
It must have been my first car, a Plymouth.
My father never drove, nor my mother.
Only one Armenian family,
as I remember, owned a car back then.

It is evening and I am driving him
to the Veteran’s building for some event
or meeting that he is attending.
We are downtown before I realize that
he is uncertain of the address.
He is used to walking everywhere,
and has become disoriented in my car
(but I don’t realize any of this
at the time). I am being impatient
with him. I don’t like being his chauffeur,
I want to get on with my life, not
be a helpmate in his.

Pull over, he says, reading my thoughts.
Which I do, feeling a little
uneasy, my conscience fighting
with my impatience. But I
pull over. He gets out and quickly
begins his hurried walk—
the walk I will always know
him by, and that I will always remember
when I think of him and think of myself.

He gets out in front of Woolworth’s.
It is dark out, but the street lights
are not on, and I am there, alone
in the semi-darkness,
unable to move, my car stationed at the curb.

And I am there still, watching,
staring at his back as he moves away,
knowing the Veteran’s building
is just three blocks away,
I would call if he could hear me
but he is on his own and alone
as I am
with whatever this is that I am.

marcia lee masters | the man, my father

12 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 238 | June 11, 2008

Poems for the Father #3
in celebrations of Father’s Day, June 15, 2008

MARCIA LEE MASTERS, born in 1917, was the daughter of Edgar Lee Masters, a lawyer by profession, poet and author of one of the seminal volumes of small town American life, SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY which, along with Sherwood Anderson’s, WINESBURG, OHIO shaped our sense of rural culture in America to this day.

Marcia Lee grew to be a poet as well, though always under the shadow of her father. I met her once at a literary awards banquet in Chicago in the 1970’s. She must have been in her 60’s then. A lively, passionate woman, her heart dedicated to the literary life—the presence of poets and writers always in her midst. She was the poetry editor of the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine at the time—a wonderful column showcasing many talents. I remember her taking my hand in hers, congratulating me for the award I had received for my first book of short stories and inviting me to visit her sometime. I was somewhat swept away, a stranger to the historical literary scene of Chicago, not to mention one degree of separation from Masters himself, whom I admired immensely.

Years later I discovered this poem by Marcia about her father. There seem to be more poems written about fathers by sons than poetry by daughters about their fathers. I find this one particularly poignant because we so seldom get this personal glimpse of the ‘famous father’ by a daughter who so obviously understood his life and simply loved him for who he was and what he wrote.

I am reminded too by something the poet, Anne Sexton once said: “It doesn’t matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was.” Norbert Blei

The Man, My Father by Marcia Lee Masters

Whether you strode from court to court,
Biting the streets off with opinioned feet,
Or climbed the hills—the land was in your blood:
Your boyhood farm where all men worked, and made
The green come up, the seasons sing.

You knew all skies—all weather—you had known
Since youth when you toiled in the prairie heat;
You knew the warmth of hayfields steaming when
The sun arose and drove like golden bees
Into the mist; you knew the smell of soil
New-crumbled, waiting for the seed; you loved
The juice of things hard-earned like your first books.

No matter where you walked—that early farm
Was in your step, your glance; and when you talked—
The pungent sounds of cornfields, and the long
Terse-drying winds swirled up from turgid wheat
Were in your words; even your silences
Had sinew—like tree roots.

Yet, when you lolled, it was with gusto—in
A chair that needed paint, no cushion at
Your back; your feet thrust in the grass, your boots
Still wet from hikes through morning fields, while books
Rose at your side, soon to be husked like corn.

You wrote while other slept, while flowers
Faded in vases, and the rooms grew cold;
The papers mounted: pencils grown too short
To use were cast aside like bits of kindling
Snapped to pieces on a roaring fire.
You had no sympathy for blights that spread
Unchecked, for idle orchards left to crows;
You sprayed potato plants until the bugs
Fell to their death like words knocked from a line.

Something American—bred in the cattle’s strength,
The roosters’ battles by the road,
Something that gathered substance from the trees—
Was in your spirit’s force, your body’s pride.

from HEARTLAND II, Poets of the Midwest, edited by Lucien Stryk, Northern Illinois University Press, 1975

Poetry Dispatch No. 2 | August,23 2005

leemastersportraitneu.jpg“Life all around me here in the village:
Tragedy, comedy, valor and truth,
Courage, constancy, heroism, failure -
All in the loom, and oh what patterns!”

(‘Petit, the Poet,’ from Spoon River Anthology)

This is a good day (August 23rd) to take another look at an American masterpiece celebrating small town life.

The village, the town, the rural may be an old fashioned lifestyle to some, given the magnetism of our great cities, the scope and sameness of our suburbias, gated communities, concrete, steel, and neon landscapes peopled with strangers. It may even be a very old fashioned way to write a poem about provincial life, though narrative poetry seems as natural as gossip, and often achieves greatness because of the story within the poem we all wish to hear, and some to write. I can think of no greater book of American poetry reflecting the power and beauty of the narrative poem than Edgar Less Masters’s SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY.

The opening poem in SPOON RIVER introduces the people and place, and like a good short story, a well designed narrative, begins where it all ends:

The Hill
Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom, and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife–
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie, and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?–
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in a search for a heart’s desire,
One after life in faraway London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag–
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?–
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying–
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

Today, August 23, is the birthday of the poet Edgar Lee Masters born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He was one of the first writers to portray the American small town as a place of terrible secrets, lies, and scandals. Masters grew up in two towns in the Illinois Corn Belt, Lewistown and Petersburg, along the Spoon River. He became a lawyer and moved to Chicago. He was a partner with Clarence Darrow. He met Carl Sandburg, who was writing for a socialist newspaper, and Masters got involved in the Chicago literary scene. He published a series of books of poems and several plays.

One day, Edgar Lee Masters’ mother came to visit, and he spent a day with her talking about all the characters he remembered from the towns where he grew up. His mother told him all the gossip that she knew about those people. He put her on the train and went back home and started writing Spoon River Anthology.

He had recently read a book of Greek poems written in the form of fictional epitaphs about famous dead men, and so he got the idea for a book of poems written in the voices of the dead in a graveyard.

spoonriver.jpgHe published Spoon River Anthology in 1915 under a pseudonym. He was worried it would have an effect on his law practice, and he was right to worry. The book was considered very scandalous at the time, but it became a best-seller. It went through 70 printings, and it allowed Masters to retire from his law practice. The people in the towns that he had grown up in were angry at him for decades. It took more than 50 years before the town where he went to high school was able to put Spoon River Anthology in the town library. (source: Writer’s Almanac)

LUCINDA MATLOCK by Edgar Lee Masters

I went to the dances at Chandlerville,
And played snap-out at Winchester
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis.
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed—
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life.

In 1914 Masters began a series of poems about his boyhood experiences in western Illinois, published (under the pseudonym Webster Ford) in Reedy’s Mirror (St. Louis). This was the beginning of Spoon River Anthology (1915), the book that would make his reputation and become one of the most popular and widely known works in all of American literature. In “The Genesis of Spoon River” (American Mercury, Jan. 1933), Masters recalls how his interest turned to “combinations of my imagination drawn from the lives of the faithful and tender-hearted souls whom I had known in my youth about Concord, and wherever on Spoon River they existed.”

Though he would never equal the achievement or fame of Spoon River Anthology, he continued publishing poetry, novels, essays, and biographies for nearly thirty years. The amount and wide range of his production far exceeded its quality, by most accounts, and Masters’s place in twentieth-century American literature is still debated. (source: Ronald Primeau)


Edgar Lee Masters (August 23, 1868 – March 5, 1950) was an American poet, biographer and dramatist. He is the author of Spoon River Anthology, The New Star Chamber and Other Essays, Songs and Satires, The Great Valley, The Serpent in the Wilderness An Obscure Tale, The Spleen, Mark Twain: A Portrait, Lincoln: The Man, and Illinois Poems. In all, Masters published twelve plays, twenty-one books of poetry, six novels and six biographies, including those of Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Vachel Lindsay, and Walt Whitman.

Edgar Lee Masters was born on August 23, 1868 to Emma J. Dexter and Hardin Wallace Masters in Garnett, Kansas, where his father had briefly moved to set up a law practice. The family soon moved back to his paternal grandparents’ farm near Petersburg in Menard County, Illinois. In 1880 they moved to Lewistown, Illinois, where he attended high school and had his first publication in the Chicago Daily News. The culture around Lewistown, in addition to the town’s cemetery at Oak Hill, and the nearby Spoon River were the inspirations for many of his works, most notably Spoon River Anthology, his most famous and acclaimed work. Spoon River was Masters’s revenge on small-town hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness. It gained a huge popularity, but shattered his position as a respectable member of establishment. Masters attended The Knox Academy from 1889-1890, a defunct preparatory program run by Knox College, but was forced to leave due to his family’s inability to finance his education.

After working in his father’s law office, he was admitted to the Illinois bar and moved to Chicago, where he established a law partnership with Kickham Scanlan in 1893. In 1898, he married Helen M. Jenkins, the daughter of a lawyer in Chicago, and had three children. During his law partnership with Clarence Darrow, from 1903 to 1908, Masters defended the poor. In 1911, he started his own law firm, despite the three years of unrest (1908-1911) due to extramarital affairs and an argument with Darrow.

Masters died March 5, 1950 and is buried in Oakland cemetery in Petersburg, Illinois. His epitaph includes his poem, “To-morrow is My Birthday” from Toward the Gulf (1918):

Good friends, let’s to the fields…
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think I’ll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep-
Let’s walk, and hear the lark.

Masters first published his early poems and essays under the pseudonym Dexter Wallace (after his mother’s maiden name and his father’s middle name) until the year 1903, when he joined the lawfirm of Clarence Darrow.

It was in 1914 when Masters truly began developing as a notable American poet, when he began submitting a series of poems (this time under the pseudonym Webster Ford) about his childhood experiences in Western Illinois, which was published in Reedy’s Mirror, a St. Louis publication. In 1915, the series was bound into a volume and re-titled Spoon River Anthology.

380px-usstamp-edgar_lee_masters.jpgThough he never matched the success of his Spoon River Anthology, Masters was a prolific writer of diverse works. He published several other volumes of poems including Book of Verses in 1898, Songs and Sonnets in 1910, The Great Valley in 1916, Song and Satires in 1916, The Open Sea in 1921, The New Spoon River in 1924, Lee in 1926, Jack Kelso in 1928, Lichee Nuts in 1930, Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma in 1930, Godbey, sequel to Jack Kelso in 1931, The Serpent in the Wilderness in 1933, Richmond in 1934, Invisible Landscapes in 1935, The Golden Fleece of California in 1936, Poems of People in 1936, The New World in 1937, More People in 1939, Illinois Poems in 1941, and Along the Illinois in 1942.

Masters was awarded the Mark Twain Silver Medal in 1936, the Poetry Society of America medal in 1941, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1942, and the Shelly Memorial Award in 1944.


  • * A Book of Verses (1898)
  • * Songs and Sonnets (1910)
  • * Spoon River Anthology (1915)
  • * Songs and Satires (1916)
  • * Fiddler Jones (1916)
  • * The Great Valley (1916)
  • * The Open Sea (1921)
  • * The New Spoon River (1924)
  • * Selected Poems (1925)
  • * Lee: A Dramatic Poem (1926)
  • * Jack Kelso: A Dramatic Poem (1928)
  • * Lichee Nuts (1930)
  • * Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma: A Dramatic Poem (1930)
  • * Godbey: A Dramatic Poem, sequel to Jack Kelso (1931)
  • * The Serpent in the Wilderness (1933)
  • * Richmond: A Dramatic Poem (1934)
  • * Invisible Landscapes (1935)
  • * Poems of People (1936)
  • * The Golden Fleece of California (1936)
  • * The New World (1937)
  • * More People (1939)
  • * Illinois Poems (1941)
  • * Along the Illinois (1942)


  • * Maximilian: A Play (1902, drama)
  • * Althea: A Play (1907, drama)
  • * The Trifler: A Play (1908, drama)
  • * Eileen: A Play (1910, drama)
  • * The Bread of Idleness: A Play (1910, drama)
  • * Dramatic Dialogues: Four Short Plays (1934, drama)


  • * Lincoln: The Man (1931)
  • * Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America (1935)
  • * Across Spoon River: An Autobiography (1936, memoir)
  • * Whitman (1937)
  • * Mark Twain: A Portrait (1938)


curt johnson | gott ist gross und gott ist gut.

10 06 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No.143 | June 10, 2008

Curt Johnson: 1928-2008

Gott ist gross und Gott ist gut.

Dear Friends,

I just learned that Chicago writer and publisher, Curt Johnson, died.

I was a friend, we were friends, for over 40 years. He was one of the best writers out there, and never received the attention he deserved, slugging it out for so many years with his own small press and magazine, december, for so many of us who looked forward to reading whatever he was up to, as well as hoping to some day get the official nod from Curt, to be included in anything he edited and published. Among his early ‘finds’ Ray Carver.

I can’t imagine the literary small press scene in America without the no bullshit attitude of Curt, always hovering over the scene, separating the crapola (Academia and government grants) from the writers who wrote solid, lived the little mag/small press life–no strings attached. Curt had an eye for those folks. It’s no wonder his heroes were writers like Nelson Algren and Jack Conroy. The poetry of the streets, the working stiff. The school of hard knocks.Tell it (in writing) like it is–is something Johnson wrote and lived, long before it became the popular thing to say

As the publisher and editor of Cross+Roads Press, one of the projects and books I’m proudest of is SALUD, Selected Writings by Curt Johnson. It was a bear of a book to work on, there was so much of his writing that deserved to be to included, it took far longer than I imagined, but luckily Curt was alive (though not well) and in touch via phone, snail-mail, and his daughter,Paula. I wanted him around to see this book happen, introduce him to young writers and readers who never heard of him, or may have forgotten he was still around. Which happened, to some degree. And that was just last year–2007. I’ll never forget his smile, when I delivered the first copy to SALUD to him and his eyes began to well, standing there in the kitchen of his small house in Highland Park, Illinois. “It’s beautiful, Norbert…beautiful,” he whispered in his gravely voice. One of the small satisfactions of small press publishing that few will understand or experience. To print something to make sure that writers like Curt are not forgotten.

But I remain more than unhappy over the reception of SALUD in the hometown, Chicago. Not one goddamn newspaper or literary magazine gave SALUD or Curt the print he deserved. Believe me, I contacted all of them. It was like tossing copies over a cliff. Granted, he had made some enemies in the media world in his time. He did not suffer fools or what he perceived as injustice. But for all the time, effort, concern that he put into ‘the city of the big shoulders” that they should give him the cold shoulder pisses me off considerably, to this very day.

Only the little mags and newspapers, publications read mostly by other writers gave it some print–and continue to give it some attention (one even featuring Curt at their writer of that issue)–most of this thanks to the tireless efforts of Milwaukee writer, Charles Ries, who maintains a passionate mission to ‘get the word out there.’ For which I thank him again here.

But I’m still waiting to hear more than wind from the Windy City. Chicago, where the hell are you? You lost a champ. Somebody, please wake up Oprah. Not to mention the Trib, Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine, all the alternative newspapers, all the literary mags still riding whatever small wave was once the Chicago writing scene.

Rest in piece, old friend. The important thing: You got it all down on paper, kept the faith, said it well. It’s their loss.

norb blei

Let us turn over the page

And see what is written

On the other side of the night.

—Thomas McGrath

P.S. Copies of SALUD are still available. $15 plus $2 postage from CROSS+ROADS PRESS, PO Box 33, Ellison Bay, WI 54210. Blatant advertising. An out-and-out pitch. (Curt would have loved it. I can see him grinning). For those of you who enjoy reading essays, short stories, memoirs, novels, satire, political commentary, etc. For anyone out there who wants to become a writer or a publisher, or knows someone who is entertaining the notion of writing seriously, here’s the book. Not “How To” but “How It Is”. Curt wrote this one for you.

carl sandburg | father to son

9 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 238 | June 9, 2008

Poems for the Father #2

in celebrations of Father’s Day, June 15, 2008

Father to Son by Carl Sandburg

A father sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony
and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
And left them dead years before burial:
The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
Has twisted good enough men
Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

From THE PEOPLE, YES by Carl Sandburg

selected Carl Sandburg recordings and books:



Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer, and folklorist. He was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents and died at his home, named Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg “indubitably an American in every pulse-beat.” He was a successful journalist, poet, historian, biographer, and autobiographer. During the course of his career, Sandburg won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years) and one for his collection The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg.

During the Spanish-American War, Sandburg enlisted in the 6th Illinois Infantry, and he participated in the landing at Guánica on July 25, 1898 during the invasion of Puerto Rico. Following a brief (two-week) career as a student at West Point, Sandburg chose to attend Lombard College in Galesburg. He left college without a degree in 1902.

Sandburg lived for a brief period in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which he became a member of the Social Democratic Party and took a strong interest in the socialist community. He worked as a secretary to Mayor Emil Seidel, the first socialist mayor in the United States.

Sandburg met Lilian Steichen, sister of the famed photographer, Edward Steichen, at the Social Democratic Headquarters. Lilian (nicknamed “Paus’l” by her mother and “Paula” by Carl) and Carl were married in 1908; they would go on to have three daughters. Sandburg moved to Harbert, Michigan. From 1912 to 1928 he lived in Chicago, nearby Evanston and Elmhurst. During this time he began work on his series of biographies on Abraham Lincoln, which would eventually earn him his Pulitzer Prize in history (for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 1940).

In 1945, the Sandburg family moved from the Midwest, where they’d spent most of their lives, to the Connemara estate, in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Connemara was ideal for the family, as it gave Mr. Sandburg an entire mountain top to roam and enough solitude for him to write. It also provided Mrs. Sandburg over 30 acres of pasture to raise and graze her prize-winning dairy goats.

Much of Carl Sandburg’s poetry, such as “Chicago”, focused on Chicago, Illinois, where he spent time as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Day Book. His most famous description of the city is as “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat/Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler,/Stormy, Husky, Brawling, and City of the Big Shoulders.”

is also beloved by generations of children for his Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, a series of whimsical, sometimes melancholy stories he originally created for his own daughters. The Rootabaga Stories were born of Sandburg’s desire for “American fairy tales” to match American childhood. He felt that the European stories involving royalty and knights were inappropriate, and so populated his stories with skyscrapers, trains, corn fairies and the “Five Marrrrvelous Pretzels”.

Sandburg was awarded a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

Here is an incomplete list of books and anthologies published by Sandburg:

  • * In Reckless Ecstasy (1904) (poetry) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Incidentals (1904) (poetry and prose) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Plaint of a Rose (1908) (poetry) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Joseffy (prose) (1910) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * You and Your Job (1910) (prose) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Chicago Poems (1916) (poetry)
  • * Cornhuskers (1918) (poetry)
  • * Chicago Race Riots (1919) (prose) (with an introduction by Walter Lippmann)
  • * Clarence Darrow of Chicago (1919) (prose)
  • * Smoke and Steel (1920) (poetry)
  • * Rootabaga Stories (1920) (children’s stories)
  • * Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922) (poetry)
  • * Rootabaga Pigeons (1923) (children’s stories)
  • * Selected Poems (1926) (poetry)
  • * Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) (biography)
  • * The American Songbag (1927) (folk songs)
  • * Songs of America (1927) (folk songs) (collected by Sandburg; edited by Alfred V. Frankenstein)
  • * Abe Lincoln Grows Up (1928) (biography [primarily for children])
  • * Good Morning, America (1928) (poetry)
  • * Steichen the Photographer (1929) (history)
  • * Early Moon (1930) (poetry)
  • * Potato Face (1930) (children’s stories)
  • * Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow (1932) (biography)
  • * The People, Yes (1936) (poetry)
  • * Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939) (biography)
  • * Storm over the Land (1942) (biography) (excerpts from Sandburg’s own Abraham Lincoln: The War Years)
  • * Road to Victory (1942) (exhibition catalog) (text by Sandburg; images compiled by Edward Steichen and published by the Museum of Modern Art)
  • * Home Front Memo (1943) (essays)
  • * Remembrance Rock (1948) (novel)
  • * Lincoln Collector: the story of the Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln collection (1949) (prose)
  • * The New American Songbag (1950) (folk songs)
  • * Complete Poems (1950) (poetry)
  • * The wedding procession of the rag doll and the broom handle and who was in it (1950) (children’s story)
  • * Always the Young Strangers (1953) (autobiography)
  • * Selected poems of Carl Sandburg (1954) (poetry) (edited by Rebecca West)
  • * The Family of Man (1955) (exhibition catalog) (introduction; images compiled by Edward Steichen)
  • * Prairie-town boy (1955) (autobiography) (essentially excerpts from Always the Young Strangers)
  • * Sandburg Range (1957) (prose and poetry)
  • * Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960) (poetry)
  • * Wind Song (1960) (poetry)
  • * Honey and Salt (1963) (poetry)
  • * The Letters of Carl Sandburg (1968) (autobiographical/correspondence) (edited by Herbert Mitgang)
  • * Breathing Tokens (poetry by Sandburg, edited by Margaret Sandburg) (1978) (poetry)
  • * Ever the Winds of Chance (1983) (autobiography) (started by Sandburg, completed by Margaret Sandburg and George Hendrick)
  • * Carl Sandburg at the movies : a poet in the silent era, 1920-1927 (1985) (selections of his reviews of silent movies – collected and edited by Dale Fetherling and Doug Fetherling)
  • * Billy Sunday and other poems (1993) (edited with an introduction by George Hendrick and Willene Hendrick)
  • * Poems for children nowhere near old enough to vote (1999) (compiled and with an introduction by George and Willene Hendrick)


robert hayden | those winter sundays

8 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No.237 | June 8, 2008

Poems for the Father

Father’s Day, June 15th, is one week from today. In celebration and memory of ‘the father’ I thought it appropriate for Poetry Dispatch to devote this entire week to poems about “Dad” in all his guises, complexities, relationships in the family.

You can’t write to any depth or read anything worthy of thought and concentration without running into the age-old story of dear old dad. Literature abounds with “fathers and sons”—fathers and daughters as well. There’s love; there’s conflict; there’s admiration; there’s hate; there’s forgiveness; there’s guilt; there are things one should have said and never did; there’s the absence of a father; there’s the father one becomes with little to go on but the father who was yours; there’s the father who lives only in memory and, perhaps, comes back to visit only in dreams. Ah speak, memory… Norbert Blei

P.S. Everyone should have a favorite father poem, own a book of someone’s poetry with a father poem he loves, an anthology of poems devoted to the father. Every poem on Poetry Dispatch this week will be identified by the title of the book in which the poem appears and whatever source information that may be available, should the reader be so inclined to seek out a gift copy for—the father, the son, the daughter, the grandchild, himself/herself or the family.

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

from FATHERS, A Collection of Poems, Edited by David Ray and Judy Ray, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999, $10.95

Robert Hayden (August 4, 1913 – February 25, 1980) was an American poet, essayist, educator and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

Born as Asa Bundy Sheffey, Robert Hayden grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Born to a struggling couple, Ruth and Asa Sheffey (separated before his birth), Hayden was taken in by a foster family, Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden, and grew up in a Detroit ghetto nicknamed “Paradise Valley.” The Haydens’ perpetually contentious marriage, coupled with Ruth Sheffey’s competition for young Hayden’s affections, made for a traumatic childhood. Witnessing fights and suffering beatings, Hayden lived in a house fraught with ‘chronic angers’ whose effects would stay with the poet throughout his adulthood. His childhood traumas resulted in debilitating bouts of depression which he later called “my dark nights of the soul”.

Because he was nearsighted and slight of stature, he was often ostracized by his peer group. As a response both to his household and peers, Hayden read voraciously, developing both ear and eye for transformative qualities in literature. He attended Detroit City College (Wayne State University), and left in 1936 to work, for the Federal Writers’ Project, where he researched black history and folk culture.

He was raised as a Baptist, but converted to the Bahá’í Faith during the early 1940s after marrying a Bahá’í, Erma Inez Morris. He is one of the best-known Bahá’í poets and his religion influenced much of his work.

leaving the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938, marrying Erma Morris in 1940, and publishing his first volume, Heart-Shape in the Dust (1940), Hayden enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1941 and won a Hopwood Award there.

pursuit of a master’s degree, Hayden studied under W. H. Auden, who directed Hayden’s attention to issues of poetic form, technique, and artistic discipline. After finishing his degree in 1942, then teaching several years at Michigan, Hayden went to Fisk University in 1946, where he remained for twenty-three years, returning to Michigan in 1969 to complete his teaching career.

He died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1980, age 66.

Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975. From 1976 – 1978, Hayden was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position which in 1985 became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Hayden’s most famous and most anthologized poem is Those Winter Sundays, which deals with the memory of fatherly love and loneliness.

Other famed poems include The Whipping (which is about a small boy being severely punished for some undetermined offense), Middle Passage (inspired by the events surrounding the United States v. The Amistad affair), Runagate, Runagate, and Frederick Douglass.

Hayden’s influences included Wylie, Cullen, Dunbar, Hughes, Bontemps, Keats, Auden and Yeats. Hayden’s work often addressed the plight of African Americans, usually using his former home of Paradise Valley slum as a backdrop, as he does in the poem Heart-Shape in the Dust. Hayden’s work made ready use of black vernacular and folk speech. Hayden wrote political poetry as well, including a sequence on the Vietnam War.

On the first poem of the sequence, he said, “I was trying to convey the idea that the horrors of the war became a kind of presence, and they were with you in the most personal and intimate activity, having your meals and so on. Everything was touched by the horror and the brutality and criminality of war. I feel that’s one of the best of the poems.”


  • * Selected Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: October House 1966.
  • * Words in the Mourning Time: Poems by Robert Hayden. London: October House, 1970
  • * Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: Liveright, 1975
  • * American Journal: Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: Liveright Pub. Corp., 1982
  • * Collected Prose: Robert Hayden. Ed. Frederick Glaysher. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1984.
  • * Collected Poems: Robert Hayden. Ed. Frederick Glaysher. NY: Liveright, 1985; rpt. 1996.


john ashbery | re-visited

29 05 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 236 | May 29, 2008


Additional bio, resource info, & commentaries can be found here…

Norbert Blei

Please click here to see the latest comment on John Ashbery postings from the past.


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