Introduction: "Skyscraper (03:52)
Harvard University professor Elisa New, architect Frank Gehry, and others analyze Carl Sandburg’s poem “Skyscraper.” Poet Robert Polito deconstructs its opening line: “By day the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and has a soul.” “Technologies–the airplane, the skyscraper–have given human beings new vantage points on the natural and the manmade,” New says.
Sandburg's Chicago (02:07)
New characterizes Sandburg’s early 20th century Chicago as “a laboratory for modernist composition (where) nature and the manmade are set in dynamic interaction.” Gehry, Polito, and others comment on the juxtaposition of nature and technology in that city. New alludes to poems Sandburg wrote about “the turbulence and dissonance of his city.”
"Elevators Slide on Their Cables ..." (02:13)
Experts delve deeper into the poem, contemplating the impression that new technologies must have made on Sandburg. New suggests the poet is trying to assimilate and integrate mechanical inventions into poetry in a way they hadn’t been before; the skyscraper is likened to a composition and a living being.
Sandburg's Political Views (02:34)
Polito addresses the human toll that skyscrapers and other feats of turn-of-the-century engineering took; he puts this in the context of Sandburg’s radical, socialist views. Gehry recalls first visiting Chicago and its haunting “industrial beauty” in the 1940s.
Beijing as the New Chicago (02:25)
New characterizes today’s Beijing as the modern equivalent of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Businesswoman Zhang Xin a transformation she has observed in her city. She sees the skyscraper in Sandburg’s poem as a sacred space, but Gehry disagrees.
Human Cost of Construction (02:29)
Participants discuss the human toll of constructing skyscrapers, as alluded to in the poem. “One man fell from a girder and broke his neck at the end of a straight plunge,” Sandburg writes. Gehry shares a personal tragedy while discussing the transitory nature of urban life.
Beginning of the 20th Century (02:04)
Discussion turns to the human drama and the plight of low-wage workers that Sandburg depicts in the poem. “Wires climb with secrets, carry light and carry word,” he writes, “and tell terrors and profits and loves–curses of men grappling plans of business and questions of women in plots of love.”
Aesthetic of Buildings (02:25)
“Hands of clocks turn to noon hours,” Sandburg writes, “and each floor empties its men and women who go away and eat and come back to work.” “It’s almost like they’re machines going off to be fueled,” Polito says. New expresses a more benign interpretation about “the rhythm and cadence of life.”
"One by One the Floors are Emptied ..." (04:05)
Participants explore Sandburg’s imagery of the skyscraper at night. A lone security guard is the only individuated person in the poem. “This young watchman is Sandburg living in Chicago,” Polito speculates, calling the poem “a very powerful vision of what it means to live in a city in the 20th century.
Credits: Skyscraper (00:43)
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