October 13, 2011

Terrible poetry

I was very disappointed a week or two ago reading Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems ("City of the big shoulders," "Hog butcher of the world"). Perhaps this is the worst of them (courtesy of Bartleby.com):


I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them.
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.

Yuck. Starting with the least-awful objectionable aspect, it's in this careless, not quite rhythmic free verse. And the way the Hungarians example is set off from the rest with a different rhythm makes everything so nice and pat. I don't like the lame, obvious contrast, either.

Finally, I had to laugh; part of that, I think, is that the Hungarians are an ill-chosen group of poor people. It's one of those words that sounds too funny in English to take seriously. Just remember: "In 1970, the British empire lay in ruins; foreigners filled the streets, many of them Hungarian (not the streets, the foreign nationals) . . ."

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