this poetry project focuses on the memories and reflections of older seniors who used to work in factories and mills in berks county, pennsylvania many decades ago. it spanned 3 years and resulted in 3 books of poems, including 25 each, from seniors in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
a poetry reading at the oley valley community library this september.
in mid-september, the oley valley community library kindly hosted a poetry reading for this project. at this particular event, john groff (born in 1936) and donald gilbert (born in 1940), both of earl township, were the featured guests from my recently published second volume of poetry on the manufacturing history of berks county.
several of the people who attended continually learned that they know same friends and family in common, despite never having met each other before, and these connections across everyone seemed to bring an unexpected delight into the room with how demeanors peeled toward positives. it just shows how we're all more tied together than we realize and that supporting each other as human beings is at the base of what's needed in this world.
below are some eye-scenes of the afternoon and long excerpts of the first poems which were shared. photography credits go graciously to helen clogston of the library itself.
john groff's poem excerpt i do some things in reverse of what’s expected. i grow
a thick beard in summer. in the icy feel of cold months,
i shave. back in the days when my cheeks were still
newer to scattering beams of sunshine, i had enough
jobs to the point that it’s almost hard to accurately tally
them. for 11 months before i could drive, since my dad
said i needed to own a car first, i repaired machines
at osan manufacturing company, inc. in boyertown.
soon, i bought a black 1935 plymouth coupe for $125.
but then i met adam stamm who did excavating, operating
out of mohrsville. he hired me to drive his trucks, hauling
dirt away for him. he died in a penitentiary—convicted
of murder, from a love triangle. he liked women entirely too
much, i could tell, or control. several 1961 newspaper articles
note two charred skeletons in a car near lakeontelaunee,
mariepeggytimmons, 34, and john hyneman, 43, set
afire. they discovered two-month-old clara in the blaze, too,
all the evidence pointing to my old boss. i opted instead
for something with less gruesome of ties, worked at bachman
pretzel company near laureldale, wrapping rods in wax-lined
paper to ship abroad. then i had a mushroom-picking job
before driving a huckster truck of farm produce. i later ran
a machine, cutting metal at a. w. mercer, inc. in boyertown,
but for two winters in my early 20s, i worked at what
everybody called the cheese factory in oley township—
the windmill cheese co. at night, daylight gone, i unloaded
government butter into the building from tractor trailers...
donald gilbert's poem excerpt
at some point, my title went from superintendent
of dyeing to head colorist. for at least three decades,
i managed the always-hot dye house at bally ribbon
mills, beginning back in the 1970s. i initially started
there part-time while still in high school back in 1956,
taking to the usual longer hours after graduating in 1958.
earning 90 cents by each hour, i labored in the shipping
department. in the finishing department, big heated cans
had the ribbon rolled all around them, helping it to dry,
lose any wrinkles. since colorists were few and far between,
ed galli drove here from new jersey to manage our powdered
and liquid dyes. he came up to me, questioned if i wanted
to learn his craft. he said, if you are willing to try, i am going
to make a dyer out of you. he trained me, taught me how
many spoonfuls of one dye or another to throw in for a certain
shade required by our clients. i had drawers and drawers
of note cards, of my formulas—thousands of them saved. ed
hit the road home on a thursday, left just me in charge, then
retired. that’s when i realized—wait, this is my break in life.
not a clean, temperature-comfortable or easy job, i doubt i
would have made a good living otherwise. by the 1990s, we
were dying 25 to 35 million yards of ribbon a year. in the art
of coloring tightly weaved fibers, you learn that black isn’t
really black. it’s perhaps blue-black, green-black, or jet...
and here is a clip from the reading, courtesy of sam traten.