The Spirit of Sandburg

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The Citron Review was excited to launch our first poetry contest – and we are delighted to announce the winners. The challenge was to write poems in the spirit of Carl Sandburg, with entry fees going to support the work of archivists at Connemara, the site of his family’s Estate in Flat Rock, North Carolina. (With some funds going to a grand prize winner). We’re honored that many considered this contest, and that we could publish four poets whose visions aligned with the late American icon. Indeed, Citron is proud to partner with the Friends of Carl Sandburg on such a project, and we were grateful for the chance to read each submission.

The four poems that follow are an adroit cross-section of Sandburg’s principles: humanitarianism, family, betterment of the working class, celebration of nature and solitude, and careful attention to history. Not all is rosy though — there is a warning here that failure to evolve as human beings and to let go of greed and substitutes for healthy living will harm civilization — a warning especially apt in 2015.

For the summer issue, we selected “Lotus Flowers” by Kim Winter Mako, “Forgetting the Game” by Jed Myers, and “The Town That Becomes This” by Michael Boyko to complement the first place winner. Mako’s poem looked at how nature can be peacefully harnessed to further a “cleaner” society, calling to mind the common folk Sandburg encountered in his wanderings through Chicago. Myers’s poem reminds me of pastoral Connemara and the transcendent quality of nature the Sandburg family must have felt upon their arrival in 1945, while Boyko’s “The Town That Becomes This” cautions us against a transcendence achieved through artifice and distraction: “We escape ourselves at our own peril.”

The grand prize goes to “Lee in the Orchard, 1865” by Roy Bentley. Many Sandburg devotees are aware of the Lincoln biography. Carl Sandburg completed his biography of President Abraham Lincoln in 1939, which many feel cemented his legacy. Mr. Bentley comes at Sandburg from a third person perspective of Robert E. Lee, just after the Civil War ended. Evidently, Lincoln had just been in Richmond, Virginia where we find Lee alone with his horse, Traveler.

Instead of painting an obvious homage to nature and to Lincoln, Bentley instead writes of what Lee may have done or thought. It’s enough to place him in an orchard, pausing for perspective, as “he paced under and around a buzzing of tiny live things.” It’s enough to approximate the music Lee faced after a harrowing campaign: “And though a hard justice had found R.E. Lee,/It was abridged by blur of yellow jackets. Bees./Something the heart of a flower requires like light./Something like drops of rain if the rain had wings.”

Mr. Bentley’s poem was ultimately chosen because it is suggestive without being oblique; concise without feeling truncated; it is a contemporary take on Sandburg situated in the past — an ecology of an orchard post-war rendered in beautiful prose. Hopefully you’ll find some time to read each of the Sandburg selections, along with great work from other genres, in our summer issue.

Thank you for reading and for supporting The Citron Review!


Eric Steineger 
Senior Poetry Editor

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Snow on brush in desert

IMAGE CREDIT: Jill Katherine Chmelko. Protest Road, Winter. 2019.

🍋Our Tenth Anniversary


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