He modeled his expansive fictional land on the American Midwest. Rootabaga Stories. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. See Article History.
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Ross Simonini The Poetry Foundation. Nonsense is for everyone. It is a parody of language, a burlesque, and yet it still deeply resonates, not with specific emotions or ideas, but with the uncanniness of a life-altering dream. The indisputable masters of nonsense are children. Without a lifetime of words to slough off, children remain mostly immune to language's rules and so give us the Dada-est Dada-isms. But as each day passes, children around the world are sacrificing their verbal freedom for a language that may never be as exciting as their natural blathering.
It makes sense that those writers who have tried to unlock the world of nonsense are most often considered, somewhat dismissively, as writers of children's literature: Edward Lear , Lewis Carroll , Alastair Reid, Dr. Seuss , and so on. These writers know that children don't need traditional language to get excited by literature.
Carl Sandburg , Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and biographer of the quite sensible Abraham Lincoln, remains one of the great unrecognized writers of nonsense.
Sandburg, on the other hand, considered his so-called Rootabaga country for readers "5 to years of age. Nonsense has come to connote a style of nursery rhymes, little comic vignettes, or limerick-y sketches; it is not primarily a genre but a device. It functions in two primary ways: by defying logic with paradox and confusion "the red brick is blue" or with semantics, ignoring fundamental grammar rules such as subject-object relationship.
Sandburg's stories fall into the former category--they explore anti-logic rather than anti-grammar. Sentences look like sentences, but they read like something else altogether.
Gimme the Ax lived in a house where everything is the same as it always was. The windows are always either open or shut. We are always either upstairs or downstairs in this house. Everything is the same as it always was. Sandburg refers to children as "anarchs of language and speech. The very term "rootabaga," a respelling of the root vegetable's name, is Sandburg's announcement that he intends to ignore proper language and convey his ideas through something else.
In his life, Sandburg finished three collections of stories about the Rootabaga country--"Rootabaga Stories," "Rootabaga Pigeons," and the rare "Potato Face. His motivations recall another cult children's writer, Heinrich Hoffman, author of the violent book of juvenilia "Struwwelpeter," who had grown tired of "stupid stories, beginning and ending with admonitions like 'the good child must be truthful. Conclusions in general are kind of a joke in Rootabaga stories.
One story ends: "And so--if you ever come across a gold buckskin whincher [an object that is never really described, except to say that you can wear it around your neck], be careful. It's got a power. It'll make you fall head over heels in love with the next man you meet with an X in his name. What makes the Rootabaga stories more than Edward Learian jingles and Rimbaudian indeterminacy for kids is how Sandburg brings the looseness of nonsense thinking to all aspects of the tales: plots fail to develop, characters' actions have no meaning, conflicts have no resolutions.
There is both a character named Red Slippers and a pair of actual red slippers, but you can barely be sure which is which. In general, Sandburg relishes in naming all things; it's one of his skills, and with it he constructs full-bodied narrative nonsense. Potato Face Blind Man defines the world's parameters as "Kansas, to Kokomo, to Canada, to Kankakee, to Kalamazoo, to Kamchatka, to the Chattahoochee," as if the Midwest were the reference point for the larger world.
The Village of Liver-and-Onions, the metropolitan center, is across the Shampoo River from the Village of Cream Puffs, which "looks like a little hat you could wear on the end of your thumb to keep the rain off your thumb. Using the international language of nonsense, Sandburg probes the international myth, what Joseph Campbell would call the monomyth, one of the earliest forms of accreting local dialect and culture.
African folklore, Taoist tales, Zen koans, and Hawaiian myths all use the absurd to provide cause-and-effect answers to mysteries that people cannot, otherwise, understand.
Instead of attempting to provide answers, though, Sandburg answers nonsense with nonsense. What is the point, then, of Rootabaga country? It is a land built from a language with almost no rules, so it is a land of opportunity, a truly American utopia. There, the stammers that ruin proper speech have the chance to become characters. Adults have the chance to unlearn the language that has created their fears and problems, to take in words with a beginner's mind.
Part of HuffPost Entertainment. All rights reserved. Huffington Post. Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. Here, Sandburg begins a new mythology of language's genesis. Calling all HuffPost superfans! Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost's next chapter. Join HuffPost. Seuss Lewis Carroll. Today is National Voter Registration Day!
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The windows are always either open or shut. We are always either upstairs or downstairs in this house. Everything is the same as it always was. So he decided to let his children name themselves. When the first boy came to the house of Gimme the Ax, he was named Please Gimme. When the first girl came she was named Ax Me No Questions. And both of the children had the shadows of valleys by night in their eyes and the lights of early morning, when the sun is coming up, on their foreheads.
Carl Sandburg And The 'Rootabaga Stories': When Nonsense Prevails
Ross Simonini The Poetry Foundation. Nonsense is for everyone. It is a parody of language, a burlesque, and yet it still deeply resonates, not with specific emotions or ideas, but with the uncanniness of a life-altering dream. The indisputable masters of nonsense are children. Without a lifetime of words to slough off, children remain mostly immune to language's rules and so give us the Dada-est Dada-isms. But as each day passes, children around the world are sacrificing their verbal freedom for a language that may never be as exciting as their natural blathering. It makes sense that those writers who have tried to unlock the world of nonsense are most often considered, somewhat dismissively, as writers of children's literature: Edward Lear , Lewis Carroll , Alastair Reid, Dr.