Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Shoulders and Little Cat Feet

In March 1914, Poetry magazine published the Carl Sandburg poem Chicago and introduced the literary world to the City of Big Shoulders. 

It is difficult to believe the poem celebrated (did it celebrate?) its 100th anniversary this year.

The graspability of that number - 100 -  is particularly difficult for me because when I was a tiny Chicagoan, memorizing poems and learning about poetry in grammar school, Sandburg was considered a modern poet having died only a decade earlier. Adults still made reference to Carl Sandburg like he was a sports columnist or the guy with the bowtie on the evening news. 

Although the great metropolis on the Great Lake is no longer the hog butcher for the world it is still stormy, husky and brawling. One hundred years isn't really that much time after all; just long enough for something modern to become a classic.

A century after Carl Sandburg was impressed by the fog rolling into the harbor, Chicago and its natives continue to influence poetry. 

These works are by two of my favorite modern, poetic Chicagoans:

Agoraphobia by Susan Hahn

It isn’t that she doesn’t
want to go to the marketplace, if only
to buy one small
compliment. She can remember each
time she went,
got one, took it
home, put it in
porcelain cup she kept
beside her bed.
She stopped 
going out of fear
of wanting too much to fill
the fragile container,
decorated her house in muted
and moved onto her bed
a color TV
which she watches
She likes the news, especially
the accidents what happen
when people travel too far 
from home.
They secure her place.
And when she faces
a scene filled with good
time, she wanders—
but only in her mind.

In Spite of Everything, the Stars by Edward Hirsch

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor’s expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler’s plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that’s why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That’s why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky.

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