Lines the Quarry | Robin Clarke
Selected by Brenda Hillman as the winner of the 2012 1st/2nd Poetry Book Prize
Within a span of 15 days, Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine exploded, killing 29 miners, and BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and leaking over 5 million barrels of oil (and counting). A year and a half later, Occupy occurred. Lines the Quarry writes of and into that ongoing disaster and possibility, interjecting into the commercial language of success the many violations—bodily and otherwise—that define capitalist exploitation. Weaving together autobiography, lies, half-truths, corporate horror stories and labor’s radical past, this book seeks to articulate both our devastation and our possibility in very human terms. In a language familiar yet strange, composed of fragments, multiple speech registers and broken syntactical arrangements, the book examines lives lived through very difficult circumstances and the corporate forces that range upon our earth.
One of the most compelling first books I’ve read in years. If there is a literary equivalent to the financial cliff, Robin Clarke’s Lines the Quarry represents the mountain of wreckage at the bottom of the free fall. Workers Comp injury data, fractured syntax, Robocops, and “stories/of girl children young enough to marry their fathers, old/enough to shoulder the pretend” all mash up into a stunning series of poems. This book is where OSHA meets arsenic, and where the courage to take a political position amidst the sampling of texts is the very beginning of “making it new” all over again.
Mark Nowak, author of Shut Up Shut Down
Under the numbers of hours and the numbers of dollars is another, more calculating math: this one of bodies. The collapse in this book is under the weight of false documents. One disaster becomes another, and then another— the disaster of capital, the disaster of families, the disaster of language, the disaster of earth. In a melancholy weaving of a thousand brutal and specific facts, there remains hope for the “still human” – what resistance girls and women, who insist against circumstances, can find in “lighters & wordiness.” Lines the Quarry is a keenly needed reminder of what, in the common disaster, wants to live (“everything”).
Anne Boyer, author of Romance of Happy Workers
Robin Clarke’s poems line the quarry of gouged-out society & ecology with a combative/confessional tenderness for life. Which is to say, her Lines puts the “my” in coal mining, hydrofracking, predatory health care, and for-profit war, to name just a few of the life-destroying regimes of power this book takes up. Lines the Quarry enacts indivisibility while wrassling with pressures to join the marketplace’s chorus. The poetics (the making), the politics (the disobedience), the personhood (the love) collapse together across lines—“Father, daughter, mother, son/what do you see as details/what do you see as derails”—propelling us forward with a hopelessness that cannot wait to see what happens next. Clarke’s body-high sandwich sign thrown onto the gears of the bulldozer reads “This makes you human, this."
Emily Carlson, Sten Carlson, gtrabbit, and R/B Mertz
- Robin Clarke is a poet, activist and teacher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she has lived most of her life. She is a non-tenure-track faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, a member of the Pittsburgh Industrial Workers of the World, Save Our Community Hospitals, and The Thomas Merton Center, and she is a strong supporter of Single Payer healthcare. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Conduit, Counterpunch, Fence, In Posse Review, A Joint Called Pauline, LABOR, Lafovea, Sentence, Whiskey and Fox, and word for/word. With the poet Sten Carlson, she has co-authored a chapbook entitled Lives of the Czars. She writes that she would be nothing without the exceptional community of writers and friends whose solidarity make this life possible.
Clarke writes with a raw and frenetic command of her facts, suggesting a scraped-together life in the unforgiving economic climate of the modern day. The book is particularly powerful when it toggles between the family narrative and the horrors of the American corporate machine.
Through exploring various disasters, Clarke ends up exploring memory—“the worst disaster since the last one”—writing about people lost through the prison system, disasters man-made we don’t wish to think about, and just where the accumulation of disaster upon disaster might end up taking us.
The book is resolute in keeping the news coming in and lining the pages with its challenge: to not tune it out but, rather, to learn more and to act, even if that means, as a poem in tribute to Mary Harris “Mother” Jones suggests, “[becoming] the most / dangerous America itself.
Through exploring various disasters, Clarke ends up exploring memory—“the worst disaster since the last one”—writing about people lost through the prison system, disasters man-made we don’t wish to think about, and just where the accumulation of disaster upon disaster might end up taking us. “What do you love about this / world? Without what is there nothing // else to say?”
One feels Clarke would like to write past the empty shuddering of decline and detachment (“shitfuckpissdamn / I think is the missing link.”) and back into brutal, soulful life. Consider the quarry. A quarry is both desolate and utterly political; it is an exposure of the wealth of nature and a perversion of it. It is visually non-human, a scorched blast into the earth, and yet the quarry is a baby of investment and a mother to many human hands and pockets, some empty, some lined with money.
The mine collapsed under the weight of its many
false documents. Today’s challenges include 362 ghosts
hefting coal into trucks & trains day & night. We are not
sorry for the miracle parables. At 10:19 am, yours was the
most up-to-date model. Don’t think we need to tear the
system apart. “Great swelling of the Susquehanna” adds
something feminine. Alter it, sure. That was blatant, that
was intentional. You could just as easily search the internet
for smoke & flames pouring from the shaft. Which was
the worst disaster since the last one. And finally, dear
families, calling them survivors was our mistake.