Monday, August 7, 2017
as a semi-introduction to the weekend, i shared poems from my third and final upcoming book of poems on manufacturing history of berks county at goggleworks in the city of reading at the first thursday poetry event hosted by berks bards, before its community open mic this august.
in 2015 and 2016, berks bards invited me to share poems from volumes one and two of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county. so a third and final time in 2017 for the next and last book in this project made for a nice way to move into august. volume three will be out in late september.
oliver carter joined us as my special guest for the evening. i knew he'd have some great details to share from his jobs from before he retired. he answered the audience's questions about memories in his poem and some outside of it, from the main interview which helped to shape these lines. the poem crafted from his recollections is below, followed by scenes from the community open mic.
oliver carter, shillington borough | born: 1939
as a boy, i’d grown used to that hard hum, the rumbling
resonance of the railroad—in our house near seventh and
cherry streets. once we moved away, i had trouble sleeping
at night, those sounds, that vibrational pulsation missing.
back then, i can remember at least six movie houses along
penn street, one along fifth street in the city of reading,
a whole different spine to the downtown buzz and blur
of life, now history. i cooked meals through szabo food
service, inc. for western electric for a few years. then
two months after my wedding, the military changed
the rules, said married men could forgo the draft. but
they already had me in their ranks—trained in the u.s.
army in fort jackson in georgia. i taught men exactly how
to operate combustion and diesel engines on missile sites
in fort belvoir, virginia, served as second in command
in managing electricity at a power station by north star
bay in thule, greenland. by 1965, i came home, took
a job at polymer plastics, extruded that material. ford
motor company gave us a fairlane model, challenging
us to see what components we could redesign in plastic
for lighter weight in a single car, cheaper cost—bolts,
tubing, gas tanks. i left there for cartech, its buildings
along a bend in the oldest water around, the schuylkill
river. i went from laborer—in the melt shop, hot mills,
rolling mill, annealing—to foreman, then supervisor
of the wire drawing department, after early days spent
extruding coils and rods, not cutting them but reducing
their size by stretching them through a custom die. once
i managed people, decided who would get what job each
day across the latest project, i understood how delicate
and complex it is to attempt to distribute work evenly,
to do a job well without racism dripping through some
complaints, guys taking orders from a man whose skin
isn’t quite like that of their own majority. yet most knew
we were all just working to get through our days, put food
on our tables at home, hoping to have the energy to love
our kids, wives—in between overtime, slumber in blankets.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
a poetry reading at studio b this july to introduce the third & final book of poems in this project.
last weekend, i hosted the first poetry reading of 2017 to introduce the newest poems in this project in the third and final book which is in the works for the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county.
studio b's hardworking volunteers kindly served to offer this venue rental in the community, and it is always a wonderful place for poetry readings and bringing people together who aren't normally into poetry but do want to hear the stories written in these recollections from interviews. it's also then a nice way to expose people to less common lines of poetry through local history and documenting the lives of seniors in our area.
betty sefrit who worked at boyertown auto body works wasn't able to make it as planned but hopes to be at the next poetry reading at studio b on sunday, october 8 at 1 p.m.
betty's co-worker ernie haas, however, was able to attend and brought along some neat old black and white pictures as well as a magazine where boyertown auto body works was featured.
and richard and mary-frances haas joined the afternoon in talking about their work at bally ribbon mills as well as great american knitting mills, inc., which was the home to the gold toe sock factory.
walter delong, from my second volume in this project, also chimed in from the audience sometimes in relating his work with others at boyertown auto body works, as did leonard crowdell who worked with mary-frances after moving here from england in the 1960s to fix knitting machines.
and walter makes a second appearance in the upcoming volume three also, through another poem-source's memories, but that glimmer will be shared sometime a bit more into the future.
here are some eye-scenes from the poetry readings, thanks to laura kline's camera efforts. and a long excerpt from one of the special featured guests is included.
mary-frances koch, washington township | born: 1941
rudi abrams told me, you aren’t meant for the factory—you
are meant to work in the office, after i did trimming of gold
toe socks for great american knitting mills, inc. in bally. i
started in customer service but had a belly with a baby in it
by 1963, another child at home for richard and me. when
i returned in 1966, plant floor jobs were all they had, but rudi
brought me into production and inventory clerk work in 1967.
he came here from germany, ran the plant, made this place
his home by 1923. our 75th anniversary booklet showcases
one page from his technical journal from his study of textiles
at the university of stuttgart, his german-jewish words spelled
gracefully, sprawling, scratched ink, mingling with sketches
of knitted patterns for the strongest weave, early design ideas
to later catapult his invention—a linenized toe made to outlast
any wear with durable reinforcement in the yarn. i issued our
knitting and dyeing schedules, maintained stock-keeping
units across all departments. from 1972 to 1978, i moved
into supervising above my last role. after viola edge let out
word of retiring, having nudged me into getting that first job
long ago, she recommended me for her position, personnel
manager, trained me for several months before she said adieu
to a life of socks upon socks every single day. i went from her
position to human resource administrator, to office manager,
once they hired someone else to help with the interviewing...
Monday, July 24, 2017
today's mail brought the gift of the proof of volume three from this project from my publisher. here are some eye-scenes from it. some early copies will be ready by mid-august, and the rest will be available in late september. it'll be so nice to be at this point in three years of these efforts, and the final poems have some stories which speak into the deepest of the unsaid so far. it'll all make sense once you read volume three. =)
Saturday, July 15, 2017
four special, featured guests will be a part of the upcoming poetry reading for this project at studio b in boyertown on sunday, july 23 at 1 p.m. spread the proverbial word.
this is the first new poetry reading of 2017 to introduce poems from the third and final book in the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county.
betty seifrit and ernie haas worked at boyertown auto body works. richard koch worked at bally ribbon mills, while his wife, mary-frances koch, worked at great american knitting mills, inc., the original home to the gold toe sock factory. below are some eye-scenes of them, and betty is pictured with her fur kid sophie who has two beautiful and different colors of eyes. everyone here other than sophie the dog will be a part of this upcoming poetry reading, ready to share more about their memories after answering questions from the audience.
and here is an excerpt of betty seifrit's poem.
betty seifrit, union township | born: 1940
i left some sewing place on first street in birdsboro after
i heard boyertown auto body works had openings, and not
just for men—my grandmother, maude reinert, worked there
long before me. i wish i knew what role her hands played
in prepping trucks for highways, local roads. maude left
us, this world, by 1953, after first opening her infant eyes
in the oley valley in 1899. back when we had contracts
with the government, i built just the left-hand side doors
of u.s. army trucks. somebody else in our plant managed
the passenger’s sides. we handled our shifts in the building
next to the hookies, a firehouse where those who live
for bingo bring ink-ready dabbers to win cuts of london
broil, full chickens, ground beef, pork chops. bill wiles,
some call him butcher bill, supplies the meat from burt’s
farms along route 100 just outside of bechtelsville. with
those truck doors for the grips of military drivers behind
the wheel, i secured spongy insulation, fitting it tightly into
the frames. i practiced the art of adding hinges, gave door
handles their purpose, shined it all up with a final protective
coating. a crane-like machine above moved doors along once
i’d finished, maybe 5 or 6 a day. next stop—paint shop.
then they moved me back to the building on south walnut
street. i became a woman of more electrical energy, running
wires from tail lights. i’d maneuver underneath, hooking up
brake lights. a clamp in my palm helped. some of the trucks...
Sunday, July 9, 2017
the blur of getting the final volume of work for this project done has led to less updates here besides poetry reading scenes. publishing stages are finally just around the corner.
here is a first introduction into samplings from volume three of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county.
mary ann hudzik lives in cumru township. i met mary ann through her granddaughter zoe who i met while doing a poetry reading at reading area community college. zoe connected me with her grandmother, and i loved how kind and easy to talk to she seemed right away, waiting for me in the lobby of her apartment to make it simpler on me so i didn't have to hunt my way up to the top floor in an unfamiliar place. i wouldn't have minded walking the stairs or taking an elevator, but it was kind of her to wait for me, and i interviewed her in a community-ish room on the first floor.
below is a photograph of mary ann, followed by a long excerpt of her poem in the upcoming third and final book in this project.
mary ann hudzik, cumru township | born: 1935
never meeting my grandfather who didn’t survive the flu
epidemic, i kept his naturalization papers from germany—
frank cieplinski. his grave shows he made it to 53, born
august 16, 1865, leaning his way into dust by august 14,
1919. grandmother victoria made it through, had a house
built on south tenth street in the city of reading, paid off
that loan on her own. she birthed my father there. my mother
knew final pregnancy pains with me in that home, too. by
1965, narrow fabric in west reading hired me. i ran machines
for four years. maybe you had 200 or so strips processing, but
these machines were lengthy. i mostly remember that we
fashioned the material for fishnet stockings, although we
weren’t the ones who did the final work, shaped where legs
and feet fit into them. bra straps, now those i remember
well enough. they had lace machines for wedding gowns
but only briefly due to the market’s complexity, how
fussy a bride can get, and those designs were more than
just ornate. different machines did different cuts of widths.
we kept several ladders around to replace the enormous
wooden spools, stocked on shelves set back, higher than
our heads. spooling happened on the fifth floor. before i
had a car, i took a few buses to get to work, had to deal
with downpours of rain, hoping to avoid the soaking
of it with what an umbrella could do. eventually, i left
those machines, moved to the office, became a secretary
to the plant’s manager, martin horn. meetings always
blurring the hours, i brewed 7 or 8 pots of coffee a day.
that mr. horn loved machinery, jumped at the chance
to work a plow in winter’s blustery months when snow
covered our parking lot, savored digging holes for trees
outside in springtime. they gave us nicely-sized hershey
bars at christmas...
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
i just heard word from virginia today that anna machamer, whose berkshire knitting mills poem was in my second volume of poetry, passed away on the 10th of june at the age of 98. her obituary ran in the washington post today.
i interviewed anna by phone in 2016, after emailing the questions for her to read in advance with help from her son ron. she became the first and only person i interviewed from outside of pennsylvania for this project. and her charm even by phone seemed distinct and genuine, like it'd be very easy to love her in-person.
you can see anna's poem excerpt here.
this is a re-posting of the photographs ron sent to me before i interviewed her. in the first, she stands with her husband wellington in some life-minute before their marriage, when they both worked at berkshire knitting mills. the second picture is more recent.
reading about more in anna's life put me in awe. since i only asked her about one job in her life, and in pennsylvania, i had no idea she has such vast experiences and testing out of so many angles of skills. working in a research lab, making anti-aircraft detonator shells, acting as a caretaker for the grandchildren of president eisenhower, and creating a backyard like a small, and beautiful park are just some of the points which stood out so interestingly in reflections of her life.
i also loved reading that she spent time playing along and probably in the schuylkill river as a child, since i spend as much time by the river as i can and teach my traveling poetry class there, along different sections. rivers are such an important resource to our hearts, more than i think people sometimes realize. but if you do spend some time at them, you see that they change you, and for the better. so i am always grateful when i stumble across people who have known the value of a beloved local river, especially away from the fierce distraction of electronics and and work obligations consuming our lives today.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
finally (phewww, getting up to 25 interviews with seniors has been a unique challenge this year), here is a lineup of monthly poetry readings to share the poems from the third and final book in this project, the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county. i'll be sending this info out to those who are on the email list soon, too.
if you are able to attend any of these poetry readings or have any questions about them, please feel free to reach out via email at thelaborsofourfingertips at yahoo dot com. and remember that a handful of volume 1 books are still available. more of volume 2 are available. and volume 3 will be published by august into september 2017. all books are $20, including tax, and can be purchased at poetry readings, a few local shops, the gofundme campaign, or by reaching out here directly.
- sunday, july 23 @ 1 p.m. at @ studio b in boyertown, 39a east philadelphia avenue, boyertown, pa 19512
- thursday, august 3 @ 6 p.m. @ berks bards' first thursday poetry open mic @ goggleworks center for the arts @ 201 washington street, reading, pa 19601
- thursday, september 7 @ 7 p.m. @ the hamburg area high school in its community room via the hamburg area historical society @ 701 windsor street, hamburg, pa 19526
- sunday, october 8 @ 1 p.m. @ studio b in boyertown, 39a east philadelphia avenue, boyertown, pa 19512
and here are some eye-scenes of people in my final book who i hope may be able to participate as special guests at these events. coordinating efforts for that are in the works.
russell copeland worked at the letisse handbag factory in his teenage years and later at continental can in the city of reading. his granddaughter shown in this picture has ties to his can work. but that tidbit is saved for later.
harold schoenly worked at the boyertown casket company and later the boyertown planing company, which is still in business since 1913.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
in late may, the boyertown museum of historic vehicles hosted a poetry reading from this project during the still slightly new fourth friday art walk in boyertown.
throughout the night, people ventured up to the top of town to visit the museum and hear poems read about the special guests, walter delong, born in 1936, who worked at boyertown auto body works, jerry rothermel, born in 1949, who worked at tung-sol which specialized in headlight production for vehicles, and willie kramer, born in 1932, who did color-matching and leather-cutting work for the seats of automobiles at garden state tanning.
the wives of the guest were also a part of the reading and brought in some of their own reflections about the work from their viewpoints, and some other guests talked about their old jobs, including some allergic reactions to materials in the manufacturing process. oofh. (not cool, but surely useful for the telling.)
some visitors arrived later, wanting to hear jerry's poem, so i sat and vocalized it for them, close so ears would suit well for listening. they were his relatives who'd heard about the event at the museum but couldn't get there earlier in the evening. and jerry is related to walter by marriage. so family ties were weaving through the night a bit.
willie donated a large piece of automotive leather from his former workplace to the museum at the end of the night, too.
thank you to lillee grace hetrick for her assistance with some of the photography for this poetry reading at the museum.
and some museum scenes.