100 years of Carl Sandburg’s Chicago poem

One hundred years ago, Carl Sandburg published a famous poem about Chicago:

For its issue of March 1914, Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine accepted Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and seven of his other poems about the city…

And a city — in the first five lines of the work of an obscure socialist poet in a 2-year-old magazine founded by a Chicago Tribune art critic — had found its enduring descriptors…

“The poem was absolutely revolutionary when it first came out,” says Bill Savage, who teaches the poem as a distinguished senior lecturer in English at Northwestern University…

“They have a kind of omnipresence that makes it a little bit difficult for us to think and feel our way back to how original and daring this was,” Polito says. “You show something like ‘Citizen Kane’ to a group of young students. The techniques of that film have been imitated so many times, they don’t see what was startling about it. That’s a little bit true here. It’s a little bit hard for us a hundred years later to recapture. It’s almost as if it’s a combination of the Book of Genesis and the national anthem for Chicago. It’s the founding myth and the celebratory lyric.”

Reading this, it strikes me that this poem is really well-known in the Chicago area because residents feel like like it embraces all the contradictions that they enjoy (or at least acknowledge) about the city. But, is this poem well-known elsewhere? The article suggests academics elsewhere often didn’t think highly of Sandburg’s work. Is their a poetic equivalent for New York (perhaps the recent Jay-Z and Alicia Keys hit “Empire State” might be a modern version?) or Los Angeles? If so, perhaps I wouldn’t know as I’ve only really heard of Sandburg’s poem…

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