Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1921: Sandburg serenades U audience

Posted on October 1st, 2006 – 11:27 PM
By Ben Welter

An appropriately meandering 67-word lede tops this report from the Minnesota Daily Star:



Carl Sandburg, poet and one of those “socialist agitators” concerning whom the American committee, the Northwest Warriors and the board of regents of the University of Minnesota have said so much, read some of his poems and sang a number of folks songs, popular among the negroes, the I.W.W. and the cowpunchers of the Texas panhandle, in the Little theater at the University of Minnesota yesterday afternoon.

Carl Sandburg in about 1930. (Photo courtesy Chicago Historical Society)

Because of his reputation for “redness,” as well as his growing vogue as a poet, the Little theater was crammed. Hundreds were unable to get into the auditorium at all.

Students and graybeards among the faculty and others who came to hear Sandburg in anticipation of a “shocking” hour or two were disappointed. The poet of the common people read “parlor stuff” mostly. One poem, to be sure, had red hot swear words sprinkled through it, but in this day even university professors and co-eds who ride the street cars are accustomed to hard words.

There were those in the audience who wished Mr. Sandburg had read “Chicago” or “Killers” or a dozen other poems which have given the poet his reputation. They had to be satisfied with “the Greatest City” and the poem that wonders, “Why Does a Hearse Horse Snicker When He’s Hauling a Lawyer’s Bones?” Mr. Sandburg evidently holds with Thomas Van Lear that an honest lawyer is the noblest work of God – and the rarest.

Mr. Sandburg’s voice is low and vibrant with just a suggestion of Scandinavian derivatives. His reading was a delight.

The folk songs which Mr. Sandburg sang to his own accompaniment on a guitar received much applause. One student was heard to remark, however, that he had heard one of the songs at the Orpheum two weeks ago. Isn’t it terrible the way these professionals steal each other’s stuff?

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