The People's Poet
Carl Sandburg was the people’s poet, and he was a poet who believed in the people. He wrote about farmhands, street vendors, garment workers. He wrote about cracked hands and sore feet. And he wrote about them in a language those workers would have recognized.
In a long and prolific career, Sandburg wrote about everyday people and the landscape they lived in. He wrote about cities and prairies, war and industry, love and childhood. He wrote about the dream of America and what it meant to be American. At Sandburg’s memorial service—held at the Lincoln Memorial—Lyndon Johnson showed up unannounced to say, “Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. Carl Sandburg was America.”
poetry is the achievement of
the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.
This is one of 38 definitions of poetry Sandburg included in his 1928 book Good Morning, America.
You might think the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits, if it could be achieved, would be a feat of chemistry, an equation worked out by the Nabisco lab. Sandburg, though, thought of that union of bloom and bread as a feat of imagination, a burst of synapses that would transmit a fleeting glimpse of unspoken possibilities.
Defining poetry is tricky. Some of us, remembering high-school pop quizzes, might still think of it as an arcane puzzle presented in iambic pentameter by long-dead ponderous men. Sandburg had a different idea. For him, poetry was a way to access ideas and emotions that were always humming at the edge of consciousness without taking form. Poetry gives those ideas shape. It gives them the scent of a flower and the taste of bread.
So, how should we approach something that is both the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits and "a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations"? Here are some ideas.