The Poet and the Pin-up

In my post about free verse poetry I mentioned Carl Sandburg and my friend Mendy commented that he remembered seeing Sandburg reading one of his poems at John F Kennedy’s inauguration while JFK held up a hat to protect him from the sun. Intrigued by this image I did an internet search for photographs of this moment, but came up with nothing. There were photos of the poet and the president but most of them were of the two talking.

Instead, I found marvelous photos of Carl Sandburg and Marilyn Monroe, two people I never dreamed knew each other. From looking at these photos of them talking, drinking and dancing at a private party, it appears that they knew each other quite well.

the poet and the pin-up

These photos were taken by Arnold Newman in Beverly Hills. I found a quote by Gail Levin who recalled talking to the photographer:

And I said to him, “God, look at that. Carl Sandburg is just listening to her,” and he said, “No, she was just pouring her heart out, she was miserable.” He did that photograph in March of ’62 and she was dead by August of ’62. She was already very troubled, very sad. So the whole circumstance of the photograph was one that you didn’t necessarily know when first looking at it.

the poet and the pin-up

I also found a great youtube video with many of the photos of them dancing and partying with each other. It’s a gem.

Everyone knows Marilyn but not many people are familiar with Carl Sandburg. He’s one of my favorite poets, a muckraker and thinker from the Midwest. He mixes whimsical imagery with earthy populist themes. Just to give you a taste of his style here’s a poem he wrote about what a poem is:

Ten Definitions of Poetry

Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

Poetry is a journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.

Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

Poetry is a theorem of a yellow-silk handkerchief knotted with riddles, sealed in a balloon tied to the tail of a kite flying in a white wind against a blue sky in spring.

Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.

Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it.

Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

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