In the Spirit of Sandburg


Carl Sandburg


At Carl Sandburg’s retirement estate, Connemara, in Flat Rock, fans can get a strong sense of the poet’s NC years through tours, exhibits, and a dairy barn that houses descendants of the Sandburg family’s prizewinning goat herd.

But The Citron Review is bringing Sandburg back to life in a whole new rhythm.

The online literary journal is issuing a call for entries for its first poetry contest, with the theme of capturing the spirit of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Lincoln biographer, who was born January 6, 1878, in Illinois and retired to Flat Rock in 1945, dying at his home in 1967. Sandburg’s plainspoken, muscular verse, typified in his signature poem “Chicago,” may always be associated with the Midwest — but the prolific author penned a third of his output at Connemara.

Similarly, The Citron Review began in California, but its editors now hail from all over the U.S.: Missouri, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Carolina. Senior Poetry Editor Eric Steineger, who lives and teaches English in Asheville, is judging the contest.

Submissions have been rolling in since October, Steineger says, and the deadline is April 1. After the $250 prize is disbursed to the contest winner, monies raised with the $10 entry fee will support hiring a temporary staffer in the museum collection at Connemara.

Steineger sits on the board of the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara, and devised the contest in response to the national historic site’s need for archival funding. Only one archivist currently manages Sandburg’s vast collection of 300,000 documents, objects, and images. By comparison, playwright Eugene O’Neill’s home in California — another National Park Service site — has 40,000 documents and a staff of four, Steineger points out.

Sarah Perschall, Connemara’s Chief of Visitor Services, says the National Park Service requested $10,000 from the Friends group to fund a six-month support-staff position within the collection.

“We certainly do a tremendous amount with what we’ve been appropriated [by the federal government], but we could do more,” Perschall says. “If we have 300,000 objects that have meaning and relevance, in order to make them available through online exhibits or through the property, that does require funding so that more of this national park that belongs to the people is accessible to the people.”

The contest’s winning entry and three other finalists will be published in the Citron Review’s summer 2015 issue, which goes live in June.

Steineger, who says he has long drawn inspiration from Sandburg’s work, sees a correlation between preserving Sandburg’s documents and his legacy for future generations. “If we can’t protect Sandburg’s documents, we can’t have a house, and if we can’t have a house to learn about his legacy and his children’s and his wife’s, his legacy starts to fade from the public consciousness … I don’t want to see that fade from view,” he says.

Writing in “the spirit of Sandburg,” he says, “is really open to interpretation. I’m into a modern take on Sandburg, too, as I feel his values are increasingly relevant today: civil rights, humanitarianism, nature, and so forth.

“As long as I can feel a connection to Sandburg and his aesthetic in the submission, I am excited to consider the poems for this contest.”

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