Carl Sandburg, Yes—the title was suggested by Sandburg’s 1936 volume of poems, The People, Yes—is an interesting work bordering on biography proper and social history. William Garland Rogers recounts the story of one of the most distinctively American writers of the twentieth century and, in so doing, painstakingly depicts the rich milieu in which Sandburg grew up and came of age: the American Midwest. Sandburg’s self-realization as a writer, poet, and historian—resulting in a body of work spanning more than five decades—was nurtured by and ran parallel with his discovery of the United States, especially the Midwest.
Sandburg’s oeuvre—though he himself would have disapproved of that word—comprises a wide variety of writings: poems, novels, a monumental historical biography, and occasional articles. In addition, he was a collector of songs and an ama-teur folklorist, and he was active for much of his life as a recitalist and as a public speaker. Moreover, particularly in the 1910’s and 1920’s, Sandburg was a political campaigner and activist, embracing first populism, then socialism, and in the end calling himself an Independent.
Rogers’ book contains much information, organized in chronological order but also—to the extent allowed by this primary scheme—thematically. The book is fifteen chapters long, with each chapter covering a fairly discrete time period. Most of the chapters are furnished with titles that have been extracted from Sandburg’s own writings.
The book explains that Sandburg’s hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, where he was born and spent his formative years, lies about 145 miles west of Chicago. Harbert, where he lived with his wife and daughters during much of his middle life, is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, some seventy-five miles east of Chicago. Thus, Rogers shows how Chicago represented the hub of Sandburg’s Mid-west experience and was an inspiration to his poetry. This Midwestern metropolis as evoked in Sandburg’s poetry represented not charm or beauty but force and dynamism.