March 20, 2011

Triangle Remembered: "SCRAPS"

Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and a great deal is being made of it. This is a fine development, and the culmination of a revival of interest which has been growing for years. My main regret is that it has not led to the re-publication of Fragments From The Fire, a superb meditation on the Fire in poetic form by a woman named Chris Llewellyn.

I read the slim volume when it first came out (and won the Walt Whitman Award), in 1987, and promptly ordered a few dozen of them for sale on Freedom Road literature tables. My own being long gone, early this year I replaced it online from a used book dealer. I heartily recommend that you do the same.

Since the book is out of print, I do not feel at all guilty about sharing a poem from it here in the blogosphere and hope doing so by doing so might contribute in some small way to stirring enough interest to lead to its reprinting.


Lena Goldman Speaks of Sonya

Garment workers from Triangle always came to my cafe.
Each Saturday the boys and girls in groups, arm in arm
and laughing. You'd think after fourteen hours packing
and sewing they'd be ready to drop! But not on payday

Sometimes Sonya sat alone, scribbled on scraps.
With such hours at Triangle, five brothers at home,
where else to write? Her poems weren't Moon-June or
like that. At first she only wanted to make us laugh.

There was a cruel boss named Asch
who preferred his potatas mashed.
When the women talked union he was thrashin
and stewin. Soft-in-the-head, Joseph Asch.

Oh, she was a bright one! Serious poems too:
Tonight all over the world
garment girls are looking out
looking up at stars . . .

Fourteen years old and writing English!
Well after the Fire, her father came in crying.
"Like losing her twice," he kept saying--
since Sonya's notebook burned up too.

He can't afford to educate his sons.
Yet even in better times, a daughter
wasn't sent to the House of Studies.
"But in America," Sonya said, "I will find my way."


Big Noise said...

Thanks for publishing the poem. I saw recently a woman embroidered the names of the dead Triangle workers on scraps of vintage shirtwaist material. She displays them on a cloths line, like the workers of the day would have done in their day. Unfortunately, I didn't catch where they were on display. I'd love to see it. Never forget.

Big Noise said...

I am embarrassed at how the above comment is so poorly written. My brain is not working well today.

KBRO said...

the woman who embroiders the names--she's the grand--or maybe great-granddaughter of one of the traingle factory woners !

KBRO said...

goddam typos--triangle, owners