A debut poetry collection that vividly captures both the dreams and despair of blue-collar America.
The geographic inspiration for Richardson’s masterful book is the industrial heartland of Ohio. The collection is divided into two sections: “The Fire’s Edge,” which focuses predominantly on growing up in the Rust Belt in the mid-20th century, a time of financial instability and decay; and “Untying,” which takes a broader look at uncertainties that increase as one gets older. The first section contains a series of poems that detail the 1970 Kent State University shootings, in which National Guardsmen killed four university students, and their aftermath. By far the most haunting is “Randomness,” which imagines the early-morning ablutions of Sandra Scheuer, one of the students killed: “She slid from her bed on the morning of May 4, / chose the bright red blouse for the occasion / of the day of her death.” “Fainting” captures the feeling of wooziness during the event itself (“Heart / accelerated, free agent of pace and rhythm / beating against my chest wall, room tilting”) and goes on to note that “those lost / unconscious moments exist somewhere / in the cosmos, owed to me by the fact / I have not lived them.” In these claustrophobic, unstable industrial terrains, poems sometimes glimpse beautiful vistas, as in “Youngstown, Ohio 1952”: “the air lifted enough / for me to see the fevered orange flush / of the open hearth on the horizon.” Here, the powerful beauty of a sunset mirrors the infernal glow of the steelworkers’ toil. But Richardson’s painterly use of imagery is but one of her many skills; another is the manner in which poetry and music coexist within her work. In the second section’s “In the Cardiologist’s Office,” Procol Harum’s 1967 song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” filters through waiting-room speakers and wraps around recollections of a traffic accident: “my hands circling his chest turning cartwheels on the floor my head against his back bracing at the place where the car crushed his heart.” This collection will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever pondered the ephemerality of each moment.
A dazzling work by a deeply intuitive writer.