Thursday, June 05, 2008

You Work Tomorrow

Lyle Daggett writes:

This week I got my hands on You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929-1941 edited by John Marsh, published in 2007 by University of Michigan Press. The collection gathers poems from labor union newspapers and similar publications during the period, written by workers most of whom didn't necessarily write full-time or long-term, possibly didn't think of themselves as poets, though a few clearly did and a few published widely. The work in the anthology represents a wide range of labor unions, including Sleeping Car Porters, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Carpenters and Joiners, American Federation of Teachers, United Textile Workers, International Association of Machinists; International Ladies Garment Workers Union, United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, United Mine Workers, International Sailors Union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers; the Industrial Workers of the World, the Sailors Union of the Pacific, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union; this isn't a complete list.

Much of the poetry in the collection would likely meet with disapproval, or light condescension, from the calcified gatekeepers of the literary-industrial complex. Many of the poems are not well-mannered or well-polished in a conventional academic literary sense (though many are highly literate and speak with great clarity). The work gathered in this anthology is essential and beautiful and priceless. Includes an introduction by editor John Marsh, giving useful historical background; biographical notes when they were available (a number of the poems are anonymous); and a well-selected bibliography of related works.

The publisher's webpage for the book is here:

I'm including below a couple of poems from the anthology You Work Tomorrow, mentioned above.

Rose Elizabeth Smith
(poem originally published in The Machinist Monthly Journal, November 1931)

The Ninety and Nine

There are ninety and nine that work and die,
In hunger and want and cold,
That one may revel in luxury,
And be lapped in the silken fold;
And ninety and nine in the hovels bare,
And one in a palace of riches rare.

From the sweat of their brow the desert blooms
And the forest before them falls;
Their labor has builded humble homes,
And the cities with lofty halls;
And the one owns the cities and houses and lands,
And the ninety and nine have empty hands.

But the night so dreary and dark and long
At last shall the morning bring;
And over the land the victor's song
Of the ninety and nine shall ring,
And echo far, from zone to zone:
"Rejoice, for labor shall have its own."


Miriam Tane
(poem originally published in Justice, newspaper
of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, October 1, 1939)


I must evacuate my mind
of the sand-bagged city
waiting with arched back
for the bomb boom,
in black.

I must mute the magpie city
screaming bullet headlines
on wires strung through clouds
down open mouths
of crowds.

I must gouge out the neon eye
of the city from the
mind's marquee, for
in the city there
is war -- in the city where
peace is a bread crumb on
the viscous ancient waters.

I must stop my ears with country
side, graft it to my ear
like soft woman breast
to muffle all
the rest.

I must find music intimate as
a hand, and know again the
moist manner of rain,
birdfleet on the

I must sit in shadowed space, wear-
ing soft-mittens of non-
remembrance, cool as glass
through which, non-heating,
suns pass -- in the country where
the color of silence is green,
and not the color of death!