I've been reading Karen J. Weyant's chapbook, Stealing Dust. I'd been enjoying her blog for many months, and I've discovered that when I like someone's blog, chances are good that I will enjoy their poems. I don't know if the same holds true for fiction writers; I tend to go to the blogs of fiction writers whose work I already know.
I love poems that give a voice to populations that rarely find a voice, and Weyant's poems do that. About half the poems in the book revolve around the lives of factory workers. I particularly enjoyed "Beauty Tips from the Girls on 3rd Shift." By juxtaposing the traditional use of cosmetics with the ways that factory workers use them, we get a more poignant view of their situation. Poems like "Tasting Twilight" and "Why Men in Factories Should Never Write Love Stories" remind us that factory workers give up significant chunks of their private lives in order to have a job, a job that most of us wouldn't want.
And these poems, with their emphasis on dirt and scary machinery and abusive or neglectful management, remind us of exactly why we wouldn't want these jobs. And yet, it's not all bleak. The poems also show a sort of camaraderie, particularly amongst the female workers.
The other poems in the collection remind me of growing up in the 70's, even though I didn't grow up in a factory town, as did the people in these poems. But even if you didn't grow up in the 70's, chances are that some of these poems will speak to you. There's "Canning Season," which recalls those days when people actually put food away (and it talks of the summer of a royal wedding, hearkening back to those days when Charles and Diana seemed like a storybook couple). And "Eating Watermelons" reminded me of childhood rituals that I hadn't thought of in years. "The Girl Who Carved Jesus Into Her Forearm" is the poem I think of most frequently, that pain that finds its relief in the mutilation of flesh.
Of course, the chapbook covers all sorts of territories of pain, and yet Weynant has such a lyricism that it's not unpleasant. In some poems, like "The Girl Who Carved Jesus Into Her Forearm," the pain has already happened offstage. In others, like "The Oldest Woman on 3rd Shift," Weyant shows the recompense for a hard life: strength and ability and the knowledge of past difficulties ("But then, she reminds us all / that she remembers the strike of '82, the big layoffs in '85, the buyout in '91"), which reassures us that present difficulties can be endured.
I've returned to these haunting poems, this chapbook, again and again in the past weeks. And the chapbook itself is such a beautiful artifact. Finishing Line Press knows how to create a thing of beauty. Go here to get a copy of your own.
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