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This review is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

HOUSE OF WORK B.H. FAIRCHILD, The Art of the Lathe (Alice James Books) $9.95

Does a lathe cut away or does it release the figure immanent in a billet of steel? It's on this question which B.H. Fairchild's The Art of the Lathe turns. In an American culture which has always ignored or disdained class issues, Fairchild and Philip Levine are the only contemporary American poets (and authors in general, for that matter, since there aren't many novels about white collar, let alone blue collar, jobs) who take work and the working class as their subjects. In Fairchild's assessment of the modern shop we are a long way from Whitman's ebullient, populist celebration of the artisan (the butcher boy with 'his repartee and his shuffle and breakdown') but Fairchild retains the core of Whitman's respect for the act of work: 'Over hand the hammers swing, overhand so slow, overhand so sure.' In 'Song', Fairchild writes,

A small thing done well, the steel bit paring
the cut end of the collar, lifting delicate
blue spirals of iron slowly out of lamplight

However, while Fairchild honours work and working people he cannot romanticize industrial labour: ultimately it carves people and communities down to the nub, scattering their lives like shop floor leavings; 'Song' continues, 'into darkness until the broke and fell / into a pool of oil and water below.' Almost throwbacks, like Steinbeck novels or Walker Evans photographs, Fairchild's poems recover an America from which we have always turned our heads.

Much of the ...


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