From Milltown to Malltown

I have always been fascinated with collaborations between writers and visual artists, and I have always loved the work of Jim Daniels (he was one of the first poets I discovered who wrote about the “stuff” I knew — working class life, factory work, etc..) so of course I picked up From Milltown to Malltown (Marick Press) by Jim Daniels, Jane McCafferty (the poets) and Charlee Brodksy (the photographer) to add to my collection.

What has happened to the Rust Belt?  From Milltown to Malltown explores one possible answer to this question. This collection explores Homestead, Pennsylvania.  For those of you who need to brush up a bit on your working class history, Homestead is the site of the famous strike of 1892 when the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers fought for better wages.  A battle took place when 300 Pinkerton detectives arrived to fight the union and the strike. 

Today, according to the introduction of the book, there is little left to remind us of that famous event in American history. In 1987 the mill was closed for good, and razed.  Now, the Waterfront shopping center stands in its place. 

This collection places photographs of physical landmarks (chainlink fences, closed shops, old homes, churches) next to photographs of people (workers, mothers, children, etc..) who either work or live (or both!) in Homestead. Every photograph has its own poem.  One poem is a villanelle about shopping; another poem is a prose poem that speaks about the past.  Some poems take on Homestead and its place in history; other works focus on individual lives of the present.  My favorite poem is titled “Hello, My Name is Eric and I’m…” is about a minimum wage worker. 

Poet Dorianne Laux on the back cover blurb calls this collection “Disturbing, elegiac, and at times, wickedly wry, the chemistry between Brodsky’s bleak, beautiful spare photos and the poets’ renegade imaginations jolts us in the way art must.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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3 Comments »

  1. arihn Said:

    Just the other day I stumbled onto this Youtube video of Jim Daniels reading from this collection.

  2. Karen Said:

    Thanks so much for the video. I pasted this link on my GoodReads account!

  3. […] My students often view poetry as obscure and “too hard to understand.”  Nick Coles, however, advocates that poetry rooted in the everyday experience is meaningful — he reviews two great working-class poetry collections on the Youngstown’s working-class studies blog.   I haven’t read Jeanne Bryner’s newest collection yet, but I did a quick review of Jim Daniels’ From Milltown to Mall Town here. […]


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