This week, I read aloud over the course of several evenings pages 3-13 of The Complete Poems. Here are some random observations:
- The poem "Chicago" is so well known that its familiarity takes away some of its strength and sharpness. I couldn't read the poem without sensing the range of its renown. I would like the poem better if I didn't know it so well already.
- In "Sketch," I particularly like the phrase, "an arm of sand in the span of salt." This is what I love about Carl Sandburg's writing: the way the words feel so full and right as they are said aloud.
- In "The Harbor": "I came sudden, at the city's edge, on a blue burst of lake..." Again, so lovely to say, to think of.
- In "Passers-By": "Lips written over with strivings" -- what a remarkable piece of description. I stopped on that one. And, "Records of great wishes slept with,/Held long/And prayed and toiled for."
- And how about this set of lines, in "The Walking Man of Rodin": "Legs hold a torso away from the earth./And a regular high poem of legs is here." I'm not sure what "a regular high poem of legs" is, and yet I think I know without knowing, at least perhaps.
- And how about the fish crier "with a voice like a north wind blowing over corn stubble in January" in "Fish Crier"?
- In "Picnic Boat" we have a night "dark as a stack of black cats." A stack of black cats! And then later in the poem, "the hoarse crunch of waves." The words and images bring the poem alive.
- I was fully prepared not to like the poem "The Right to Grief." The Chicago Poems, taken too quickly in one reading, become Too Much. Too harsh and raw, too much of a time one hopes has passed, but one fears hasn't really. In this poem, I wanted to keep my arm's distance from the grief of a family over a lost child. But read this, and tell me, can you walk from it?: "I have a right to feel my throat choke about this./You take your grief and I mine -- see?/Tomorrow there is no funeral and the hunky goes back to his job sweeping blood off the floor at a dollar seventy cents a day./All he does all day long is keep on shoving hog blood ahead of him with a broom." (That's probably a longer quote than is allowed by fair use, but it's worth reading I think.)