Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WORKING THE STONE by Paul Metcalf and Lucia Saradoff from San Diego State University Press #newenglandhistory #massachusettshistory #mininghistory #mines

If you recognized either of these men, it was probably the one on the right, American novelist Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick. But who's the other guy, you ask? 

His name is Paul Metcalf, Melville's great-grandson, and one of the authors of Working the Stone, a special SDSU Press volume published back in 2004--the author passed away in 1999. While they never actually met or had any contact, Melville died years before Metcalf was even born, their shared ancestry has had much influence on Metcalf's writings. Metcalf, in an interview, acknowledges American poets such as Pound and Williams as having been great influences on his writing career, traits plainly in evidence in the experimental style of Working the Stone. {Online you can find a cool interview here where Metcalf talks about his writings and influences, as well as his connection to and inheritance from great-grandfather Herman Melville, the protagonist of Genoa, one of Metcalf's other novels}

Let's get back to the real reason we're here; Paul Metcalf and Lucia Saradoff's Working the Stone: The Natural, Social, and Industrial History of the Village of Farnams, Town of Cheshire, County of Berkshire, Commonwealth of MassachusettsMetcalf and Saradoff take us on a visual and literary journey through the history of a town in New England called Farnams, home of a once booming and successful limestone quarry. The compilation of narratives and oral histories of the laborers who recall their experiences of working in the quarry, including the development of machinery that eventually replaced the need for the workers, not only gives us insight into life in Farnams, but of American life as a laborer as a whole. Metcalf and Saradoff also incorporate the geography and geology of the area into the text dating back hundreds of millions of years, through which we see how it was formed and learn about major events in American history that took place in Farnams or impacted its development, such as it having served as a place of refuge for runaway slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad, as well as the impact the Civil War had on the development of the quarry.

While factual evidence runs throughout the text, it is far from being the conventional fact-based historical documentation we are so used to. Rather, Metcalf and Saradoff play with the presentation of their collection of information and factual evidence, establishing a poetic, collective, visual, and thus beautiful voice that speaks the living history of Farnams. Here's a glimpse of the front cover design of Working the Stone by Guillermo Nericcio García featuring a period photo of the mines in Massachuesetts.

original posting: 2/19/11
revised repost: 8/20/17