Michael Chitwood's The Weave Room
Reviewed by Meredith Sue Willis
The recent growth of poetry readings, performance art, and poetry slam
competitions points up the fact that even today the common reader needs
poetry. Poetry--like all literary art but even more intensely-- is about deep
connections and multi-layered insight.
Granddad's hungThe middle section of the book, the longest of three, focuses on various characters and events in the mill itself as well as on the language of the mill workers and their bosses. One poem, "Safety Meeting: What Counts," is a quoted conversation between a pretentious safety engineer and challenging workers. Other poems are miniature narratives, like "The Thunderbolts of Zeus" in which a college boy has the job of changing light bulbs in the factory:
My wobbly scaffolding straddled the looms,Several of these poems in the middle section take on the unusual poetic task of exploring the struggle to unionize the Southern Appalachian millworkers. I would wish that the political thread had been colored a little brighter, drawn a little tighter. One excellent and deeply complex piece is called simply "Union." Written in brief prose-shaped passages, it expresses how the narrator doesn't trust the organizers:
"....I told him union was just a word and words don't come by with a dish when someone's mother dies...." (p. 33)Then, as people begin to sign the little blue union cards, the company makes its own demonstration. To underline the point about what will happen if the workers vote for a union, the bosses call a meeting by shutting off all the looms, something they have always insisted is prohibitively expensive. Then, in the silent factory, the workers are given a free barbeque:
"Mr. Goldman from Greenville had a few words about our good work, lack of lost-time accidents, and we were told to help ourselves, just help ourselves. And we did, but not to praise or pig but to that sound, that quiet of the looms not running, not what was there, but what wasn't." (p.34)Of course, in the end, the company closes the mill anyway. The final section of the book is contemplative, even nostalgic. Here, the poet is farther from his roots, and indeed has to reconstruct and imagine what he was doing "On the Day the Oldest Textile Mill in the South Closed." The final stanza of the entire book, at the end of a poem called "Threads, End of Another Day," is:
That's it, all that happened, then, there,This is thoughtful, colloquial, sad, and lovely. Still, to my mind, Chitwood's strongest poems, the ones that lead me to recommend this book to others, are those written out of the lives, struggles, language, and stories of the people who worked in the mills.
Meredith Sue Willis, a member of the Essex Ethical Society, is the author of ten books, including a novel, Trespassers (Hamilton Stone Editions 1997) about the anti-war student strikes at Columbia University.
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