Poetry Foundation open house | Bleader

Poetry Foundation open house


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Laden with all that good Lilly pharmaceutical money—about $100 million of it, given by heiress Ruth Lilly in 2002—the Poetry Foundation built itself a new building at the corner of Superior and Dearborn. Now it's throwing a housewarming, with events Saturday, June 25, 10 AM to 7 PM, and Sunday, June 26, 10 AM to 8:30 PM. The major attractions—poetry readings by the likes of Sandra Cisneros, Obama inaugural bard Elizabeth Alexander, and past U.S. poets laureate Robert Hass and Billy Collins—are reservations-only and all full up, but there are also plenty of come-one-come-all book signings, and a glass-and-steel building with an interior arbor to explore.

The Poetry Foundation publishes Poetry magazine, which will celebrate its centennial next year. Browsing through the foundation's excellent online archive, I came across a poem you probably know that debuted in Poetry's March, 1914, issue. It may not be the author's best, but it's certainly one of his greatest:

By Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.