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Gathering Poems from Sandburg's 'Great Period'

Carl Sandburg received one of his two Pulitzer Prizes for a 1950 compilation of his poems. A new collection focuses on the Midwestern poet's early works, what the editor calls Sandburg's "great period."

"Like many people... I grew up with that big, fat book," says Paul Berman, editor of Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems, part of the American Poets Project at the Library of America.

"Mostly what I trimmed away was poems he wrote in his later years," Berman says. "I think [for] Sandburg, as with a lot of poets, his greatest years were early on. There was a moment there, ten years or so, beginning around 1914, when he was hot. He had the vision, he was going. He had one fine inspiration after another. That was his great period."

The new collection includes the classic "Chicago," which begins:

Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler.... (Full poem below.)

Berman says Sandburg was inspired by the city he saw around him.

"His genius, his inspiration in this poem and some others, was to look around the streets, at the billboards and the advertising slogans, and see in those things a language," Berman says. "And he was able to figure out that this language itself contained poetry."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Stamberg
Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.