Posts Tagged ‘Triangle’

One Conference, Two Papers

We are slowly breaking away from a cold spell that enveloped us this past weekend.  Rumor has it that some people had snow up in the hills that surround my home.  However, today, I woke up to thunderstorms and a  forecast that is going to bring us warmer weather.

I am in the middle of a week of projects.  I’m trying to wrap up some lingering assignments left from the semester.  I am also trying to finish up two conference papers. Yep, in a few weeks, I will be heading to the Working-Class Studies Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, where I will be presenting two papers on two different topics.  I’ve presented at conferences before, but never back-to-back presentations.  Should be fun.  And challenging.

The first paper is about Leonard Kress’s chapbook The Centralia Mine Fire and the metaphors placed within his collection about a fast disappearing way of life.  Regular readers will known about my interest in Centralia, and I have researched and discussed how other poets, including Karen Blomain and Barbara Crooker, have said about Centralia in their poems.  But this is the first time I have taken on Kress’s wonderful chapbook, which is now out of print, but you can read it here.

The second paper is about the depiction of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in two young adult books: Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch.  I have always said that when I have more spare time (ha!) I would like to complete an annotated bibliography of young adult books that look at working class histories and/or issues.  (As always, if you have recommendations, please let me know!).  I know these two books are not the only books that describe this important historical event, but I believe they are a good place to start.

So, June is around the corner, and these last days of May will be dedicated to finishing old projects and starting some new ones!

Adanna & The Radium Girls

The newest issue of Adanna features my poem, “Sleeping with the Radium Girls.” In case you don’t know the reference, my poem is examining (in a surreal sort of way) the plight of the Radium Girls, a group of female factory workers who were poisoned when they painted watch dials with glow-in-the-dark paint that contained radium. 

I’ve mentioned before that the Triangle Fire (another important and tragic event in the history of working-class women) is a very prominent subject in contemporary literature including poetry. Yet, I don’t see as much written about the Radium Girls.  I have read two novels that feature the Radium Girls:  Radium Halos by Shelley Stout  and The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld  but not a lot of poetry. Because the world of poetry and even the world of working-class poetry is so big, it’s quite possible that I’ve missed some good work out there about this particular part of women’s history.  If you happen to know something that I have missed, please leave a link!

The Ways We Work

Everyone is posting recommendations for holiday lists, and the collections all look great, but I want to offer two suggestions for the blue-collar worker that is probably in many of us.

This past March marked the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  If you don’t know much about this event, you can check the information found here.  Some working-class historians suggest that this tragic event is one of the most written about, and it’s certainly a topic of many poems.   A slim chapbook of poems, Walking Through a River of Fire: One Hundred Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poems, edited by Julia Stein and published by CC Marimbo, was released earlier this year commemorating the anniversary.  Stein includes some of the classic Triangle poems by Chris Llewellyn (from Fragments from the Fire) and Mary Fell (from Persistence of Memory), but there are many other poems that may not be so familiar, even to the working-class literature scholar. 

Another great collection?  Just last week I got a copy of Motif 3: All the Livelong Day edited by Marianne Worthington (MotesBooks). In this collection, the reader will find great poems from such poets as Barbara Cooker, George Ella Lyon, Clay Matthews, and Erin Keane.  (Yep — you will also find one work by yours truly.   “The Union Steward Switches Back to 3rd Shift” can be found on page 213.) 

Overall, What I liked most about this anthology was the sheer variety of poems and short stories about different types of work — there was domestic work, factory work, retail work. My favorite poem is “What Is Not There” by Eileen Malone about a young woman who shucks oysters for a living: “The owner pays her by the plate, replies/of course she can keep any pearl she finds/although there are no pearls in these oysters”.

You can find more information about Walking Through a River of Fire here.

You can find more information about Motif 3: All the Livelong Day here.


This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  In the past week or so, I have thought a lot about this anniversary and about writing a post about its importance in labor history.  But then, I saw Kathy Newman’s post on Working-Class Perspectives and knew right away that I didn’t have to say much….she said it all.

Or almost all.  I have to add that it seems today that with so much backlash against unions, that we are forgetting the good unions did, and still do, and have yet to do.  I won’t talk politics here, except that to say, if we lose unions, we may lose fire escapes.  And then, we may lose even more.  And as human beings, we can’t afford to lose more. You may connect the metaphors.

Of course, this would not be a literary blog if I didn’t mention the Triangle Fire in literature.  Janet Zandy and Nicholas Coles, editors of the anthology, American Working-Class Literature explain, “More than a single tragic event, isolated in the past, the Triangle Fire has also inspired contemporary poets, writing independently of each other, to return to the 1911 newspaper accounts, photographs, court testimonies, artifacts, survivors’ stories, and even the still-standing building to re-create the event for a new generation of readers. ”  You can read Mary Fell’s work about the Triangle Fire here.  Chris Llewellyn’s Fragments from the Fire is also a great book.   Of course, these are not the only two poets to write about this tragic event.  If you want to read more about the fire in poetry, Zandy’s excellent article, “An Essay About Triangle Fire Poetry” is found here.

Fiction writers have also ventured into the world of the Triangle Fire.  Katharine Weber, whose grandmother finished button holes for the Triangle Company, wrote Triangle, a novel that explores the story of the last survivor of the infamous fire.  This past year, I also finished two young adult books, Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch and Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, which were excellent reads.

This Friday, if you can, take a minute at 4:45 pm, the time when the fire first sparked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and think, as Kathy Newman asks us, “What are we doing to protect the vulnerable workers of today?”