Papermill: Poems, 1927-35

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University of Illinois Press, 2006 - Literary Criticism - 72 pages
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Unlike many of the protest poets of the Depression era, Joseph Kalar lived the workingman's life he wrote about. Though he produced some of the finest social protest writing of his era, the circumstances of Kalar's life--his tireless work in the unions, his long hours at the mill--meant that he wrote only occasionally and never published a book.

Papermill is Kalar's most famous poem, a stark description of a shut-down factory. First published in 1931, the poem was praised by Max Eastman as "the rarest jewel so far produced by the ferment in America called proletarian poetry--and it is pure art."

Stink from papermill, sulfer dioxide,
burns the nose and wreathes the mind
with thoughts of beaters to be filled
pumping jordans, swish swish of hot rolls,
paper to be made, the crash of spruce,
furred brances stabbing here and there,
the arm caught pulpy in the rolls,
the finger, lost . . .

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About the author (2006)

Joseph Kalar was born in 1906 in Merritt, Minnesota. A graduate of Bernidji College, Kalar taught primary school for a year. He returned to work in the Minnesota lumbermills and died in Minneapolis in 1972.

Ted Genoways is the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review and an award-winning poet.

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