Sue D. Burton's Little Steel is a poem of praise and lament. It praises two steelworkers who took a stand during an infamous 1937 strike at Republic Steel in Burton's hometown, Massillon, Ohio. It laments the refusal of others to take a stand against injustice or violence, in the community, in the family. The poem is the story of Massillon itself, once a thriving “company town,” now — in the aftermath of the mill's closing — struggling to rejuvenate itself. It weaves the poet's voice (sometimes passionate, sometimes ironic or edgy) with testimony from a number of sources: newspapers, oral history interviews, imagined interviews (St. Dymphna, Patroness of Sleepwalkers, whose national shrine is at the Massillon State Hospital).
About the Author:
Sue D. Burton has been awarded the Two Sylvias Press Poetry Prize (BOX, 2018), Fourth Genre’s Steinberg Prize, and a Vermont Arts Council grant. Her poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Green Mountains Review, Mudlark, New Ohio Review, and Shenandoah. She apprenticeship-trained as a physician assistant at the Vermont Women’s Health Center and has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College.
The American Midwest, and especially the industrial Midwest, has become for too many of us a place characterized by snide pejoratives: it is the buckle of the Rust Belt, or a bundle of interchangeable Flyover States. Sue Burton’s masterly long poem reminds us that those who toiled in the Rust Belt factories played a pivotal role in the creation of what used to be called the American Dream, and were among the earliest victims of its betrayal. In a poem that is part documentary in the mode of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of The Dead and part a biographical study of the author’s parents that recalls Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah, Burton searchingly—and searingly—explores the impact of a bloody 1937 steel strike on her hometown of Massillon, Ohio: the lives that it changed, the lives that it ruined, and the ongoing legacy of that event, one that continues to haunt the poet. Little Steel is a work of fierce tenderness and consummate ambition, one in which the personal and the historical commingle and fuse. And, as Burton repeatedly reminds us, we cannot read Little Steel as a form of elegy: it is instead a work of hard-won—and deeply resonant—praise.
—David Wojahn, author of For the Scribe
Sue Burton’s Little Steel gives vivid color and beautiful form to the lives of those who extracted metal from the rocks of the earth and to the bygone world they created. Sometimes so gentle, sometimes so angry, but always intimate and intricately well-informed, this honest and moving study in verse is at once a great gift to the reader and a noble tribute to its subjects. It should be read and read closely by all who wish to understand how labor and labor struggles have shaped our world.
—Ahmed White, author of The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America
Little Steel is amazingly successful in its project of interweaving social and political history with private family drama. Through many acts of investigation and many painful memories, Burton leads us to feel depths of political and moral and psychological significance in the story of a labor strike in Massillon, Ohio, in 1937. She shows us how the arenas of the public and the personal intersect, and mirror each other. She is a bold and resourceful poet, bravely seeking meanings in charged images from the past, and her obsessive quest becomes very moving—as a search for renewal of love between daughter and father, as a struggle for “women’s health” in the largest sense, and as an affirmation of belief in community. Little Steel is a long poem of rare ambition and cumulative power.
—Mark Halliday, author of Thresherphobe