Saturday, February 17, 2018

a poetry reading at the boyertown area historical society in mid-february.

the math of mixing snow-rain as ice meant the original date for a poetry reading at the boyertown area historical society was pushed out to this past wednesday from the previous one. but a nice crowd arrived for it, and thankfully, alice gerhart was able to make it as a special featured guest, even though harold schoenly unfortunately couldn't.

besides talking about alice's short-lived job in a paper mill in west reading where parachutes were made during world war ii, she also told us about her father owning a knitting mill in the city of reading, selling hosiery to businesses in european countries, and being an inventor of an inspecting machine in his industry.

this audience involved some really great curiosities with questions asked, like about any inspirational poets and styles impacting this project's work. while the style of the poems is a blend of many influences and creative utility fleshed out across years of working with words, interviewing, documenting, and translating details onto the page, i did mention a few names of recent poetic appreciation: ted kooser, jim harrison, and nayyirah waheed. and i talked about their lives and approach to writing for a bit, too. 

photography credits during this event go to eric eidle of the boyertown bulletin.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018

this poetry project as the final feature in a positive-only local news publication called news, not blues.

in 2018, i've finally retired my positive-only local news publication called news, not blues and used this poetry project to do so. here is a link to the final feature to say adieu to the publication.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

a poetry reading at the boyertown area historical society—*rescheduled to wednesday, february 14 at 7 p.m.

the boyertown area historical society is hosting a poetry reading for the recent release of volume three of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county on wednesday, february *14 at 7 p.m. (recently rescheduled from wednesday, february 7 due to expected winter weather) the poetry reading will also be a final recap of volumes 1, 2, an 3 in this project.

the historical society's programming room at the front if their main building is located along 43 south chestnut street, boyertown, pa 19512. for non-members, the cost of attendance for the event is $5.

special featured guests for the event will be alice gerhart from volume one and harold schoenly from volume 3. there's a chance someone from volume 2 may attend as well, but that can be a surprise for now, since it's in limbo.

here is harold's poem, as a hint of what the night's programming will involve.


harold schoenly, douglass township,
montgomery county | born: 1931

after richard yoder checked the documentation to match
my workload, i learned 1968’s fatal gunfire of senator robert
kennedy led to his body joining a casket i’d made with my
own hands. these caskets didn’t sell so often, priced high, not
so profitable. i’d started at the casket factory in boyertown

in 1958, remember hearing that these three-inch thick planks
as mahogany caskets cost around $5,500, even back then. we
called them no. 4900 mahogany. they were heavy—a finished
casket might weigh around 300 pounds. i spent 15 years
making these caskets, but how long it took to do them well

meant you didn’t make much money per hour. i think i still
have my first paystub, $46 typed out across that old piece
of paper. my mortgage cost $36.30 a month back then. i’d left
the u.s. air force in 1957 after carving out three years serving
in germany, glad i knew pennsylvania dutch so i could

understand some of the conversations better. i’d learned
intelligence, tested in, signed off with a top secret clearance,
but you can’t ask me about that. you can try, but it won’t help
you any—history is bound to be hidden sometimes. john
brower did help me get into a casket once, closed that

lid down, didn’t lock it shut on its cart. olive johnson
walked over to push it to the finishing room. when she
went to grab the tag inside, she saw me in it, my eyes open
boldly—jumped back, screamed. the lid bounced back down.
i built houses around town for a while, some before i quit

in 1973. by 1979, boyertown planing mill company hired me.
i did shaper work, a white-knuckled kind of job, especially
with fancy stair railings, elegant, but the pressure in getting
it right made me think i even left fingerprints in the wood
sometimes. a desk at one of the philadelphia television news

stations had known its early changes through my palms.
i retired in 1996. my handrail work is still in an 11-story
hospital in wilmington, delaware. what comes from trees
remembers who touched it, whose eyes know its integrity,
how much it misses the memories of its oldest roots.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

a book review of volume 3 published in "north of oxford" based in philadelphia.

north of oxford, with its hometown as philadelphia, recently published a review of the third and final book in this poetry project, beautifully penned by local writer marian wolbers.

here is a link to the review published in january 2018. north of oxford is run by editors diane sahms-guarnieri and g emil reutter who have been wonderful to work with in getting to know them in the past few years.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

volume 3 & book donations to libraries & historical societies in berks county.

it's been a busy year, to put it lightly.

a total of 41 envelopes are now finally prepped and ready to mail donations of the third volume from this project to libraries and historical societies in berks county.

i am a big advocate of supporting libraries since they are so supportive of me, in a sense, and the community. all of us who love libraries back. i appreciate being able to borrow books, books on CD, music CDs, and DVDs of films. as i get older, libraries become more and more valuable to me. and since the beginning of this project, making my books available to those who can't necessarily afford to buy them or don't feel a need to own copies can still enjoy them—has been a goal.

for anyone who would like to buy copies, other than reaching out to me for an old-fashioned sale, there is the gofundme campaign to donate to with your name, snail-mail address, quantity, and book volume(s) wanted.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

tom mauger's poem in volume three, which is now for sale.

last sunday, i hosted one of the last poetry readings for this project besides any which are requested by local organizations (boyertown area historical society reached out afterward and wanted a poetry reading for this work for their february 2018 program–more on that later).

poems from volume three of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county, the final book in this project, were the focus of this particular afternoon at studio b in boyertown.

copies of volume three are now available for purchase for $20 each (including tax) the old-fashioned way by cash or check (email thelaborsofourfingertips at yahoo dot com with your request) or through donating to the gofundme campaign for this project.

only one of four special featured guests were able to attend, tom mauger, but i'm very grateful for that because one is far better than zero, and tom had some good prank-rich stories to share from his old jobs, including ones outside of his poem which is below. 

and poetry reading photography was kindly contributed by laura kline.


tom mauger, amity township | born: 1948

too young to get hired by some factories, at 17, i took a truck
route delivering bottles of milk, ice cream, eggs, and butter
for longacre’s modern dairy, still in washington township
today. one of my stops at unicast in boyertown involved

pushing a cart to sell bottles of milk, before they installed
a machine to keep it cold, automated for quick grabs.
some workers paid in cash right away. others paid their
tabs to me weekly. anybody who didn’t pay didn’t get

more milk—the same went for families i delivered to—
they didn’t get more milk until they paid up, either.
but the trips into unicast led to them hiring me
part-time. weight-moving, inspecting, grinding,

and pulling castings out of sand, swatting or sawing
off excess molten iron where it first and last entered
the cavity opening to meet the pattern. we called that
knocking off the gates. i might have done that job

first, before the others. we made trivets for resting hot
skillets and casserole dishes, to let them cool, little
toy trucks, nutcrackers, even the meowing persuasion
of cats crafted in cast-iron. itty bitty-sized cars and

motorcycles were produced, too. charlie miller taught
me how to mold, fiery foundry minutes bringing out
my sweat. on the hottest days, molders went home
early—too hot of weather for pouring. the guys there

called me a blond-headed kraut, combining my german
heritage and the hue of my hair. one guy only spoke
pennsylvania dutch, so you had to know the dialect,
or you couldn’t talk with him about work or anything

else. coal crackers came from up north, carpooling
to work with us, maybe from schuylkill county. some
men would find an ideal second to drop a lit cigarette
butt into a guy’s back pocket as he worked, waiting

for the stench of the smoking to catch up to his nose.
even a cut-off pig’s tail made it into some back pockets.

Monday, September 25, 2017

a poetry reading at studio b on sunday, october 8 at 1 p.m. to introduce volume three officially.

studio b in boyertown is hosting a poetry reading for this project and its final book's release.

the poetry reading is set for sunday, october 8 at 1 p.m., and studio b's address is 39a east philadelphia avenue, boyertown, pa 19512. it is near the long-lived grill shop (which is in a poem this year, by the way) and neighbors with spirit holistic center, the local united way office, modellbahn ott hobbies, inc., and the peppermint stick candy store.

please send your RSVPs to thelaborsofourfingertips at yahoo dot com. invite friends and the famfam, if you like. we'll have some refreshments, too.

the bulk of copies of volume three will be available for purchase by the time this poetry reading rolls on around.

betty seifrit (she wasn't able to attend during a july poetry reading) and tom mauger will be special featured guests from the third and final volume in this project, as will gary and doris williams. the opportunity to ask the poem-sources questions about their lives after their poems are read is the always-there perk of these events so that you can learn more about them through genuine connections in conversation.

here are eye-scenes of them and a teaser poem about one of them, in the order in which they were mentioned above.


gary williams, rockland township | born: 1948

sam hartline told me, you’re a natural at welding, once he
trained me but acted like i hardly needed the lessons. walter
delong had shown me the heat-firing ropes any time a free
minute or two cropped into our shifts at boyertown auto
body works. before sam’s nodding of final approval, i only
assembled the trucks, starting maybe in the late 1960s or

early 1970s. when contracts were slow to absorb inked

signatures in agreement, they laid me off, so reading
truck body hired me to work on dual-wheeled utility
vehicles. they paid more, but my heart functioned its
best back in boyertown. i welded shelves on the trucks,
crafted the sides of those dual-wheels from scratch.
when boyertown auto body works had some openings

again, i returned. in winter, sometimes walter and i

stole a few moments to throw snow into a cardboard
box outside of building 11. we were up on the balcony,
a perfect location for aiming snowballs down at guys
below, a way to add a laugh or two into a morning.
welding—with it, i felt like i accomplished more than
just putting in rivets and screws as an assembler. few

men there could fashion aluminum just right, its soft

and difficult tendencies always swimming easily close
to failure, botched jobs, but the flame, the sparks and
i got along well enough. stainless or galvanized steel,
too. i’m pretty sure i once glimpsed one of our emblems
on a box truck in a dirty harry movie, maybe magnum
force from 1973. to think our work made it to california,

that what we touched traveled so far and made it onto

the big screen—i like that memory, that little reminder,
to know what we did started in a small town, reached
so far beyond pennsylvania, beyond the blasting flashes
of what the steadied control of my arms made happen.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

two bettys walk into a historical society poetry reading.

i've been loving the "two bettys walk into a bar" phrasing for the past week or two, although i had to more accurately twist it into a different venue and kind of hangout, a historical society poetry reading.

betty kunkel and betty yeager are these specific betty-types. in my second and third volumes of this poetry project, respectively, with betty kunkel also in betty yeager's poem, i delighted in the minutes of time spent with them during a program where i read their knitting milll job memories out loud for the hamburg area historical society at the hamburg area high school last thursday evening.

and a third betty joined these two in walking into the building, which i loved. "yodeling betty" naftzinger is not in my books and project on manufacturing history of berks county. but i don't know how often you can say you have three bettys walking into a doorway at once. here are the three bettys: naftzinger, kunkel, and yeager.

and the two bettys in my project drove to the wrong entrance of the school, as did i. since they have some struggles walking but do pretty well for their age, i walked back to get my car and acted as their chauffeur before and after the reading. and i loved that. 

in the early minutes of the reading, we heard a loud, awkward tech-y sound in the hallway outside of where we were. i said into the microphone that it sounded like an electrical fart. the crowd whirled into a good roar of laughter for a while. i told everyone that poetry builds you to be more in tune with how to describe things you notice in the world.

betty yeager commented during the reading that she gave brian riegel (he kindly took the photos here) of the historical society his lunch in his school days when she worked in the high school cafeteria, but she said he didn't have whiskers below his chin then. she's pretty good at incidental comedy. this was one of her jobs after her knitting mill days shared with betty kunkel.

and one woman in the audience raised her hand to let me know her mother had been in my first book, irene schappell. at the time, she'd been 98 going on 99. she said irene died a few months ago, at 100. i was so grateful that she spoke out and shared this news. irene struggled with hearing and memory yet had a wonderful and witty personality. here is irene's obituary which i just discovered.

by the end, outside, the moon perched low in the sky, bigger-seeming (it's technically the moon illusion), and it looked like a rounded chunk of muenster cheese. they gazed at it above hamburg's hills a bit before getting into betty yeager's car to head home. i told them that these moments were a poem.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

hamburg area historical society—a poetry reading: thursday, september 7 at 7 p.m.

the hamburg area historical society is hosting a poetry reading for the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county as a program for its members and the public on thursday, september 7 at 7 p.m. in the community room of hamburg area high school at 701 windsor street, hamburg, pa 19526.

hamburg's own betty kunkel from the second volume of poetry in this project will be the special featured guest for the evening. audience members will have the opportunity to meet betty and ask her questions about her memories in her former knitting mill jobs in hamburg. she is also mentioned in the poem of betty yeager in the upcoming third and final volume of poetry for this project, as a unique tie-in for her across 2016 and 2017 work in this community effort of preserving memories of seniors through interviews and poems crafted from this local history-hugging.

EDIT: on the eve of this event, i just heard word that betty yeager will be at this poetry reading as well and that the two bettys will be carpooling together. so it'll be an even more worthwhile event.

(below is betty kunkel, and pictured second is betty yeager)

here is betty yeager's poem, since betty kunkel will be a part of this poetry reading to share her conversational reflections about her time paralleled with a friend and co-worker of the same first name. (i keep finding myself wanting to say, two bettys walk into a knitting mill...oh spins on jokes.)

betty yeager, hamburg borough | born: 1933

i picked up my man at the church picnic. they had put me
in charge of soda bottles at zion moselem lutheran church

that warm afternoon, so many lines of seasoned gravestones
behind us as we shared our smiles back and forth, savored
sunshine, any sudden breezes from wind and forest, specific

to the old dirt of earth in richmond township. william yeager
and his friend, john setzler, they were thirsty. initial flirting

began by the time william took a sip or a few, maybe a crisp
cola. after we married in 1951 or 1952, he became a truck
driver for burkey underwear company in hamburg, often

making trips to and from their warehouse down the road.
i had a job there, too, put binding on the top of the flatlock

seams on the crotch sections of what men wear under their 
slacks or to sleep when our world switches on its quiet signal
for restful silence. some say, the barn door’s open, a way

to snicker about the region i sewed. i trimmed the straps off
in this anatomy of the front, delicately deliberate motions

with my scissors. sometimes we ventured to the hamburg
diner on state street on a friday around lunchtime. a creek
runs behind our old mill. it’s still there. you didn’t have

time to joke on the clock. you had to get your work done.
another betty—betty kunkel, worked there, too. i’d seen her

at church in our girlhood days, always in vibrantly-patterned
dresses, hand-sewn by her mother, from old feed bags, some
of them flowered, others checkered. on saturday nights, her

parents took  her to zern’s farmers’ market to buy young
plants to raise on their land, that drive about an hour long.

Monday, August 7, 2017

a poetry reading with berks bards as a third and final anniversary in august.

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.