Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day Out to Myself - Grazing Chapel Hill

I spent a day off in Chapel Hill, about a week ago, grazing. The best move I made was to leave off the fancy breakfast in Carrboro (grabbing instead a heavy and delicious sausage biscuit at the BP station in Calvander, on the way into town) and instead ditching my car at the mall east of town and catching the bus. As soon as the bus was hauling me and my backpack away, I knew I'd made the right move - I felt stringless. I didn't even have a way to know what time it was.

I grazed the library poetry shelves, first. Davis Library, at my alma mater, is a big ugly pile of bricks - but it has a familiar smell of old books that put a big silly grin on my face as soon as I walked in, and the place seemed completely unchanged since I'd last been there. I found the right section of the eighth floor by looking up Kenneth Rexroth. I now think Rexroth was more poetical than his work was - but a number of his poems I loved at age nineteen still bring back sharp memories of my first months of longing separation from dear wife (then dear girlfriend), the letters I wrote nearly every day, and the intoxicating emotions when we were reunited at holidays.

Here was my haul from the browse of one shelf - and this kept me busy for over an hour of buffet style poetry grazing. I started with the Sandburg, in honor of Mathman and DCup. The Chicago poems, written between 1912 and 1916. I wonder how much of Chicago's self image was coined by some of the words in the opening and title poem...

CHICAGO - 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!
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.

Those of you who know Chicago - how much of this still fits? I've only been once, very briefly, and I didn't get into the heart of town or to the lake. It felt like a bustling, real place. Living large. There must be so much more...

OR this one by Sandburg, called Happiness

I asked 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.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #27 <<<< I challenged you readers to show your bookshelves. Here are some of ours. While I am, personally, too petite to read these, Steve reads some of them aloud, and I hear of the contents. Most of this shelf is poetry - there are more behind these (St. Vincent Millay, Frost, MacLeish, both Brownings...) all favorites of Steve's. As I mentioned in that prior post, none of these books like to swim. There are more poetry books in other places, as well - in the bedside table, on the art table, where I live. Nearest to moi is the Collected Poems of Michael Longley, from a friend who manages the college press that published it. It is one of her personal favorites, and Steve spends time with it, as well - particularly poems like Flight Feathers. To which we both reply tempus fugit.

Au revoir,



Anonymous said...

Chicago is one of the nicest cities I have ever lived in or visited. The people are definitely midwestern and there's a strong, proud work ethic to the place. There's no shame in being a regular gal/guy who works for a living, loves his/her baseball team of choice or birthright and the Bears.

I didn't grow up there but it feels like home. I miss it very much.

The Sandburg poem Happiness is so very heartwarming. We lived in Des Plaines for about thirteen years and I have fond memories of that old suburb along the river.

And people still picnic along the river. I don't know about accordians, though.;-)

I may take M. Grenouille up on his challenge to show our many bookshelves. And stacks.

Sounds like the library visit was really good.

Unknown said...

Oh, what great feelings being "stringless" allows! I'm so happy for your fine day.

I too am a poetry fan. I think Sandburg is the first poet I fell in love with - middle school, I think. I so loved reading the ones you posted here. Thank you.

I'll have to photograph some of my shelves one of these days. First there is the matter of accepting my wonderful award from you and passing it on. Thank you again.


Anonymous said...

I needed your weekend. Thanks for bringing it to me.

Unknown said...

The City of Big Shoulders is Chicago. For me it is riding the EL to ball games on the North and South sides and arguing which team is better. It is the two schools I attended both built in the thirty's that represent the strength and the continuity of the city - the youth. Of course I can't forget the Art Institute and Orchestra Hall - where I was lucky to perform four times. And of course it is home to my family and friends and my roots there are deep.

Randal Graves said...

Very few scents are as welcoming as that of musty old books, I don't care what anyone says.

Life As I Know It Now said...

I loved poetry when I was in my youth. I don't know where that went. I loved Sandburg, Frost, Whitman, Dickinson, and the "Beat poets" as well as Sexton, Jong, and Plath. I still read poetry but very rarely now I must admit. Maybe it's time to go back and look at these artists again--the artists who paint with words.

Steve Emery said...

Please pardon the late reply, everyone - traveling for work, and pulling back a bit on words in order to paint more. I have two abstracts, brilliant with color, almost complete... Will post soon.

DCup - it was your comments on Chicago that made that Sandburg book leap off the shelf. And please DO show some bookshelf. I've gotta go look and see if you;ve already done it... Haven't been reading much the last 4-5 days...

Pagan - oh yes, please, some of your bookshelf, too.

Odd Chick - You're welcome.

MathMan - It might be DCup who made me think of Chicago... but the poem and my questions mostly made me think of you. I know you're the true Chicago kid, with the deep roots. And that "Big Shoulders" phrase was the one that stood out to me when I read the poem. They seemed to me to be the truest words in Sandburg's lines when I thought of what I know of today's Chicago - maybe then, too.

Randal - that book smell... I could take refuge in a library from my earliest grade school days. It means peace and much much more.

Liberality - I'd like to know some of your old favorite poems - especially if you re-read and find they've held up well after all this time.