ABOUT THIS BOOK
Who are the lords of labor? The owners, or the working bodies? In this smart, ambitious, and powerful book, David Gewanter reads the body as creator and destroyer—ultimately, as the broken mold of its own work.
Haunted by his father’s autopsy of a workman he witnessed as a child, Gewanter forges intensely personal poems that explore the fate of our laboring bodies, from the Carnegie era’s industrial violence and convict labor to our present day of broken trust, profiteering, and the Koch brothers. Guided by a moral vision to document human experience, this unique collection takes raw historical materials—newspaper articles, autobiography and letters, court testimony, a convict ledger, and even a menu—and shapes them into sonnets, ballads, free verse, and prose poems. The title poem weaves a startling lyric sequence from direct testimony by steelworkers and coal-miners, strikers and members of prison chain-gangs, owners and anarchists, revealing an American empire that feeds not just on oil and metal, but also on human energy, impulse, and flesh. Alongside Gewanter’s family are hapless souls who dream of fortune, but cannot make their fates, confronting instead the dark outcomes of love, loyalty, fantasy, and betrayal.