“Poetry is a mystic, sensuous mathematics of fire, smoke-stack, waffles, pansies, people, and purple sunsets. The capture of a picture, a song, a flair, in a deliberate prism of words.” ~ Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg has been called the “Voice of America” and the “Poet of the People,” and in this new poetry collection, young readers can easily see why.
Edited by professor and Sandburg scholar Kathryn Benzel and illustrated by award winning artist Robert Crawford, Carl Sandburg (MoonDancePress, 2017), is the third title in the marvelous Poetry for Kids series.
It contains 36 of Sandburg’s finest poems presented in two sections, Poems about People and Poems About Places. Widely anthologized favorites such as “Fog,” “Young Bullfrogs,” “I Am the People, the Mob,” and “Theme in Yellow” are featured alongside new-to-me gems, “Early Moon,” “River Roads,” “Harvest Sunset,” and “Haunts.”
Just as he rode the rails across country, Sandburg’s verses transport us from farm to prairie to big city, expressing his wonder, pride, and reverence for the beauty and expansiveness of our great nation. As someone who lived the American dream, born of humble beginnings and having worked from a young age at many odd jobs (shoe shine boy, milk and newspaper delivery, porter, farm laborer, bricklayer, coal-heaver) before becoming a journalist, editor, poet, and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Sandburg became a champion of the American worker, translating his wealth of first-hand experiences and hard-won lessons into passionate free verse.
When he wrote, “I am the people — the mob — the crowd — the mass,” he tapped into early 20th century American life as no else had done before, using the colloquial speech of the common man.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
How interesting to meet a telephone operator who has a “thingamajig clamped on her ears,” a washerwoman who “sings that Jesus will wash her sins away,” a milkman “who never argues,” a policeman who “buys shoes slow and careful,” and a group of muckers “stabbing the sides of the ditch/Where clay gleams yellow,/Driving the blades of their shovels/Deeper and deeper for the new gas mains.”
Sandburg’s whimsy and lyricism are showcased in “Branches” (“the rain, the wind, the swishing thing they sing in the morning now”), while he strikes a haunting tone in “Shenandoah” (“In the Shenandoah Valley, one rider gray and one rider blue, and the sun on the riders wondering”).
While I was disappointed that Sandburg’s iconic “Chicago” was not included (perhaps deemed too visceral for the target audience?), we do get big city glimpses from “Smoke and Steel” and the “The Skyscraper Loves the Night” (“One by one the lights of a skyscraper fling their checkering cross work on the velvet gown of night”).
Especially kid friendly are the poems about American hero Buffalo Bill, minor league baseball players battling it out in a 16-inning game, the limited express train carrying 1,000 passengers, and the extinction of the buffaloes.
Crawford’s rich, evocative cityscapes and landscapes, as well as his marvelous depictions of ordinary people going about their lives, pair beautifully with Sandburg’s poems, providing elegant, engaging points of reference — pleasing snapshots of America past and present.
I especially like the boy listening intently to the bullfrogs, the man napping beneath a gorgeous pink crab-apple tree, the lush green hills with a town tucked in the valley below, the Native American man paddling a canoe on a glass-blue lake by moonlight.
A nice introduction to Sandburg’s work, this collection will give young readers a glimpse of America through the eyes and ears of a poet who wrote not only of the people, but open heartedly for them. Also included are a brief bio, helpful definitions of key words, as well as editor commentary about all the poems (“What Carl Was Thinking”).
Enjoy this sampler platter of poems. Of course we’re starting with SOUP! 🙂
I saw a famous man eating soup.
I say he was lifting a fat broth
Into his mouth with a spoon.
His name was in the newspapers that day
Spelled out in tall black headlines
And thousands of people were talking about him.
When I saw him,
He sat bending his head over a plate
Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.
Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes,
sob on the long cool winding saxophones.
Go to it, O jazzmen.
Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy
tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha-
husha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.
Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome treetops,
moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a
racing car slipping away from a motorcyle cop, bang-bang!
you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns,
tin cans — make two people fight on the top of a stairway
and scratch each other’s eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.
Can the rough stuff . . . now a Mississippi steamboat pushes
up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo . . . and the green
lanterns calling to the high soft stars . . . a red moon rides
on the humps of the low river hills . . . go to it. O jazzmen.
There was a high majestic fooling
Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.
And day after tomorrow in the. yellow corn
There will be high majestic fooling.
The ears ripen in late summer
And come on with a conquering laughter,
Come on with a high and conquering laughter.
The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse.
One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk
And a spot of red is on its shoulder
And I never heard its name in my life.
Some of the ears are bursting.
A white juice works inside.
Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind.
Always — I never knew it any other way —
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together.
Over the road is the farmhouse.
The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose.
It will not be fixed till the corn is husked.
The farmer and his wife talk things over together.
THEME IN YELLOW
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
The pawn-shop man knows hunger,
And how far hunger has eaten the heart
Of one who comes with an old keepsake.
Here are wedding rings and baby bracelets,
Scarf pins and shoe buckles, jeweled garters,
Old-fashioned knives with inlaid handles,
Watches of old gold and silver,
Old coins worn with finger-marks.
They tell stories.
POETRY FOR KIDS: Carl Sandburg
Edited by Kathryn Benzel, Ph.D.
Illustrated by Robert Crawford
Published by MoonDance Press, April 2017
Poetry Picture Book for ages 9-12, 48 pp.
*Includes Introduction and “What Carl Was Thinking”
Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup at Buffy’s Blog. Sashay on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend. Happy June!
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, original text copyright © 2017 Kathryn Benzel, illustrations © 2017 Robert Crawford, published by MoonDance Press. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.