WORK SITES / WORK CITES
poetry by T. Kevin O’Rourke
photographs by P. Myers-Rich
various voices on industrial work in post-industrial times
November 5 – December 4, 2017
Opening Saturday, November 11, 5-9 pm
Photo Book Works & No.3 Reading Room presents Work Sites/Work Cites, featuring Bargehand’s Dance, poetry by T. Kevin O’Rourke and photographs by P. Myers-Rich.
Also on display are Traffic Street Press limited edition letterpress books Striped Ink by Greg Delanty and Hoyt Lakes/Shut Down by Mark Nowak, along with small and independent press books of poetry, essays and photography by various voices on industrial work in post-industrial times.
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Winter Hours now in effect: Friday – Sunday 1-7 pm
About the Exhibit
Bargehands’ Dance evolved from a long-time, deep-time relationship with the working side of the Upper Mississippi River upon which the poet Thomas Kevin O’Rourke and the artist Paulette Myers-Rich have lived and worked. Both have had visions there, observing simple and ordinary things knowing that they were not so simple and often extraordinary. The river is a force, a power, and a lure over the human animals that reside nearby. It draws you in. If you’re respectful and humble it will help you live and tell you its secrets. If you are a fool and cocky, it will kill you. This is certain. The men and women who work upon its waters know it and this book is in honor of them and an homage to the river dwellers, lovers, dreamers and those who have learned its secrets. Bargehands’ Dance is the fifth title in the Trafficking in Poetry Series published by Traffic Street Press. Limited copies are available in the edition of 50.
Also On View
Striped Ink, by the Vermont based Irish-American poet Greg Delanty. Delanty’s poems employ the theme of hand typesetting and letterpress printing as it reflects on the travails of his younger self working alongside his father in the composing room at a Cork newspaper. The title refers to a hazing ritual typical of those used to test the mettle of new hires who would like to learn a trade. This is the 3rd title in the Trafficking in Poetry series published by Traffic Street Press. Striped Ink can be found in national and international collections including the National Library of Ireland and the British Library. Only four copies remain available in the edition of 35.
Hoyt Lakes/Shut Down by the poet, educator and labor activist Mark Nowak, is the fourth in the Trafficking in Poetry series and is an excerpt from his book Shut Up, Shut Down published by Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2004. Illustrated with photographs by Nowak, who teaches at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. This is a very limited edition with only a few copies available.
In addition, there are a number of small and independent press books of poetry, prose and photography produced by working class artists presenting their observations about life, work, economic and social issues, and the day-to-day. The reflections by these writers and photographers are made with irony, humor, sadness, and deep insight from their personal past experience, historic research or the present conditions of life for workers. Stories about a day on the job or a life spent in an industry that suddenly disappears along with your community of co-workers and the skills you have honed bring to light what has been lost in tandem with the gains of the new economies of high tech and urbanization.
The anthology Working Words, Punching the Clock and Kicking out the Jams, edited by M.L. Liebler, with writing by a host of contributors both internationally known and under-the-radar, published by Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2010.
Packing House Daughter by Cheri Register, is a “unique blend of memoir and public history … The daughter of a Wilson & Company millwright, Cheri Register recalls the 1959 meatpackers’ strike (and) skillfully interweaves her own memories, historical research, and oral interviews into a thoughtful, impassioned narrative about the lasting impact of social class, and the value and dignity of blue-collar work.” Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 2000.
Blood & Beats & Rock & Roll by Tony Pena, Beacon’s Poet Laureate, has a chapter titled Racing Rats with poems that gives some insight to a poet’s mind while at work with musings on what could have, should have or might have been, for better or worse, and a tragic saga of a worker who gives his life on the job for his family. Published by Tony Pena, Beacon, NY 2016
Photography books include By These Hands, Portraits from the Factory Floor by David L. Parker, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 2002 and Railroad Voices, photography by Lina Bertucci and narratives by Linda Niemann, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1998.
Work Sites/Work Cites, an ongoing artist-photobook series by photographer and poet Paulette Myers-Rich, is also on view. It began in 1982 when she trespassed on the site of her grandfather’s workplace in St. Paul to photograph the abandoned and derelict railroad complex about to be renovated for retail and office space. These portraits of the disappearing industrial work sites where she and her family lived and worked came in rapid succession. There was a period of fifteen years when so much local industry was shut down, abandoned and demolished that an overwhelming number of photographs accumulated. The Work Sites/Work Cites series gives context to defining these losses through various book forms, coupled with poetry. These are the fragments of industrial sites that present details revealing early pride of place to the eventual dereliction or complete disappearance of the industrial environment of the Upper Mississippi Riverfront and adjacent zones. In 2017, little remains of the former industrial sites which are now renovated, rebuilt or reclaimed by nature. These images bear witness and show the impact of de-industrialization.
Thoughts About This Work
The post-industrial economy has given rise to massive and rapid change in industrial communities primarily in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast. What were once dominant global industrial superpower/producers, these regions are now either considered the “Rust Belt” with large areas of abandonment, or they’ve been altered beyond recognition and gentrified for luxury loft dwellings or “clean industrial” uses such as tech centers, co-working spaces, artist studios, small scale light manufacturing or food production and brewing.
Some areas have been completely renewed, while others languish. The urban industrial landscape is a site that often places workers in contention with the forces that shape it and by extension, with one’s self. Being in it, being dependent on it is to be defined by it. For the working class, industry has presided over community, bound to it by a life in factories, plants, mines and rail yards. With selves given over to the vagaries of capitalism and politics, displacement is a given after a shut down when one’s sense of agency disappears due to the abandonment or renewal of these sites. Either way, many individuals have been left behind and marginalized while all around them the world continues to rapidly evolve, leaving entire classes of workers to feel like refugees in place. These books present various facets of life as an industrial worker and gives voice to those who have vanished in plain sight in this post-industrial era. They are not gone and should not be forgotten.