Sunday, November 15, 2009

What His Bones And Blood Are Made Of

For reasons best known to myself I was doing some research into the American poet and writer Carl Sandburg which involved reading his FBI records. In itself, his FBI file is nothing out of the ordinary : any decent person slightly to the left of Attila the Hun seems to have gathered such a collection of spiteful accusations and innuendo in America in the 40s, 50s and 60s. But as I looked at a typical page from the file, with its blacked-out paragraphs, numerous rubber stamps, and endless annotations, I began to see the page as an image rather than as a document. It didn't need to be read : you could almost feel the bureaucratic enmity leach from the page. It was a piece of art, black art maybe, but a visual monument to all those of have seen lives and loves and beliefs as things to to be recorded and used as weapons of oppression. 



The thing which started me in my quest for knowledge of Sandburg (and my apologies to my American friends for being ignorant about him until now) was the advice he gave to his friend, Martha Dodd, before she left for Germany in 1933 where her father, William E Dodd, was about to take up the position of the American Ambassador in Germany. In his excellent book 1933, Philip Metcalfe quotes Sandburg saying the following to Martha Dodd.

"Find out what this man Hitler is made of, what makes his brain go round, what his bones and blood are made of. Before your eyes will pass the greatest pageant of crooks and gangsters, idealists, statesmen, criminals, diplomats and geniuses. You will see every nationality in the world. Watch them, study them, dissect them. Don't be frightened or diffident, don't let them or your experiences spoil you or your eagerness for life. Be brave and truthful, keep your poetry and integrity"

The GLW and myself set out for Wales tomorrow for a short shopping trip. We will be staying with a cousin in North Wales whose daughter and son-in-law, I am happy to relate, run several pubs. Compared to Martha Dodds' journey, a trip to Wales is nothing much I suppose, but I too will attempt to be brave and truthfull and hold on tight to my poetry and integrity.



THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES : And speaking of poetry, my good blogging friend, John Hayes, has just launched a new blog - The Days of Wine and Roses - devoted to his own poetry. Take a trip over there, it is well worth the visit.
THE FBI : Want to browse through the records of the FBI? Head over to the FBI's website and start searching. But be warned, its compulsive.

17 comments:

  1. Wow, that is a rather amazing document from a visual standpoint, & rather chilling in its bureaucratic matter-of-factness. Thanks for the shout-out on Days of Wine & Roses by the way, & for being the first follower!

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  2. Fascinating post Alan.

    I confess I knew nothing about Sandburg either, until a few minutes ago.

    Enjoy North Wales. I have a brother near Aberystwyth. We don't visit nearly often enough.

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  3. Wow- I also did not know about Sandburg- powerful post! Enjoy your trip to Wales...

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  4. Oh, great, just one more site to be addicted to!! I'm headed over right now. You know I love that kind of stuff.

    Sandburg's file page is very much a symbolic piece of art, full of hate and oppression. Interesting post.

    Now holding on tight to my poetry and integrity...I'm on my way over to Wine and Roses...and the FBI...

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  5. Quite frankly, Alan, I think you are wonderful. No apologies needed for me. Thanks for just being out here. What a treat you are.

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  6. Sandburg is a bit popular in North Carolina (where I am currently). There's a historic site at the house where he died, which is in the western part of the state.

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  7. Makes me wonder what a file on someone really considered a threat looks like.

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  8. That certainly does look a piece of art, seeing it that way. Funny how the more it was censored, the more visually interesting it got ...

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  9. You have my curiosity up now that I know that they investigated him. I guess it started with McCarthy in 56. It makes me wonder if they did this with every public person over here, but why. 1966 was not a threatening time and that was the last stamp on the document, as we were more embroiled in actually establishing the civil rights that were determined years before. I hope all creative people are not being watched over here, but I bet some of us are now that we are probably labeled non-loyalist.

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  10. I find images of "bureaucratic enmity" intriguing, always, fully suspecting that somewhere, somehow, someone is creating a file about me...

    not.

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  11. It makes you wonder why they release documents after the foregone period when all the good bits are blocked out. I'm not familiar with Dodds . .I know I know . . .enjoy Wales. Lots of happy Memories for me there but a little further south on the Gower.

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  12. Yes, you are right! It looks like a made over Ralph Steadman illustration.
    Interesting stuff!....Happy go thee on your pubsy way! -jayne

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  13. A dry Sunday then?

    I remember those interminable Sundays at school in Anglesey in the late 60s - no pubs to go to.

    I guess things may have changed a bit by now.

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  14. Enjoy your trip to Wales...As for the FBI, they may have a file on me somewhere. Who knows?

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  15. I actually knew nothing of him either until now. Interesting.

    Enjoy your trip. I so love Wales. Beautiful but cold!!

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  16. You're right. An extraordinary document. It's a shame that, with the advent of the computer, such documents won't be made any more.

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  17. hmmm....wonder if they have a file on me? lol.

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