American poetry, whatever its other virtues, has seldom promised a path to fame and fortune. One lively exception was the work of Carl Sandburg, who achieved a celebrity before his death in 1967 that seemed more typical of a Hollywood screen legend or a Hall of Fame athlete.
In a bristling assessment of the poet’s career, literary commentator Joseph Epstein has summarized Sandburg’s A-list status in his era’s popular culture: “Carl Sandburg is the only American poet ever asked to address Congress, a date he was able to fit into his crowded schedule in 1959. He also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Texaco Hour (with Milton Berle), the early Today Show (with Dave Garroway), and See It Now, where he was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow. Sandburg once wrote a poem to which, on television, Gene Kelly danced.The house in which he was born was preserved as a memorial to him when he was still alive.”