Poetry Book Project
The Boston University poetry book project is an annual event for first year, second semester masters candidates. Each artist is randomly paired with a current or former poet in the writing program. The poets read their poems while the artists showed their books in a presentation on May 2, 2012.
I was paired with Jacob Strautmann and we chose his poem ‘Request, Upper Big Branch.’ The poem is a response to the April 5, 2010 coal mining disaster in West Virginia where twenty-nine men died in a massive coal dust explosion. Massey Energy corporation was found to be guilty of flagrant violations of Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations with tacit approval by inspectors.
Italics are used in the poem to quote a government document which stipulated that ‘Removal of the mantrips shall only take place under the direct supervision of an Authorized Representative of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.’ A ‘mantrip’ is a small vehicle, also referred to as a Jitney Personnel Carrier, used to transport people into and out of the mine; the Ellis Portal is the opening in the ground used to access the mine.
Finished books with hand-made methyl cellulose paste-paper and acrylic paint end papers
ABOVE: Title page; below: first page of poem with sumi ink drawing
Request, Upper Big Branch
Wrongful death is a thin euphemism,
won’t cover an empty bed
or fill a pair of boots squatting on a stoop.
The wronged can’t chop wood or read,
can’t pack the truck and weep with those
authorized through tearing
the skein of living men from their lives,
representatives, many, whom you owe
what’s irreplaceable on this earth;
many, and they’ll not allow the removal
of the two Jitney Personnel Carriers
through the Ellis Portal. If the two mantrips,
symbols of men lost in the earth
to your production clock and false book,
cannot be removed under their own power.
Hear it again and know all you need to know:
if these two mantrips cannot be removed
under their own power, they cannot be moved,
and powerless West Virginia, pulled
over bedrock, curves inward
and orbits twin gravity wells
you would remove through the Ellis Portal,
a plan shall be submitted for approval
before any other extraction efforts of
the above mentioned equipment is [sic] made.
God knows a plan is necessary:
while you run coal from a tall building,
they step through the Ellis Portal
to wherever their welkin leads them.
Last page of poem with sumi ink drawing
End caps made from hand-made methyl cellulose and acrylic paint paste-papers
Below are a few steps in the bookbinding process:
Text block inner binding
Set-up to drill binding holes
Initial layout of text and art