Saturday, December 31, 2016

Poet Kevin Gallagher: Poet of the Loom and the Lash

Poet Kevin Gallagher: Poet of the Loom and the Lash

with Doug Holder

LOOM is concerned with the history of our divided country, a violent division preceding civil war and by now embedded in our cultural landscape. The non-sentimental poems are cool, clear and literal. They are narrated by white Americans who position themselves in relation to “slave power” and cotton as “lords of the loom” and “lords of the lash”. Boston is central to the story, and the cities of Lawrence and Lowell. It’s a valuable collection, as it puts the focus back on the white male where the distortion of vision begins and is occasionally resolved.
Fanny Howe, winner of the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize and National Book Award Finalist

I spoke with Kevin Gallagher about his new book of poetry “Loom” on my Somerville Community Access TV show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.” Kevin who has roots in Somerville, Mass., was a founding editor of COMPOST magazine, and currently publishes spoKe magazine. He is a professor of Global Development at Boston University.

Doug Holder: Were you spurred on by the context of the times, Black Lives Matter, etc... to write these poems?

KG: Yeah. 100%. But I didn't want to rage about it directly. I didn't want to resort to sloganeering. I was really inspired by the writings of Charles Olsen, Seamus Heaney and others. They were confronted with different issues—but they didn't want to go at it directly—so they went to history. I thought this was the best way was to write about Boston merchants, and industrialists, and how they helped to empower slavery.

DH: I was reading a review of a new collection of letters of T.S. Eliot. Eliot commented about “Boston Society.” He basically wrote that Boston society was very insular—they cared about their own—not others. It seems that in your book the abolitionist North was really interested in cash by cotton to increase their own coffers...the immorality of slave labor be damned.

KG: Charles Sumner branded the North as upholding the unholy alliance between the Boston mercantile class and the Southern cotton interests. Guys like Francis Cabot Lowell, and others of “society” were culprits in slave labor. Their insatiable need for cotton kept slavery going.

DH: But Amos A. Lawrence, a textile manufacturer, had an epiphany—didn't he?

KG: It happened when he witnessed the plight of Anthony Burn—a slave. Burns was from Virginia-- and escaped to the North. Under the Fugitive Slave Act, if a Southern slave owner, etc... captured him—they could bring him back. Burns was captured—abolitionists stood outside the courthouse in Boston demanding his release. They even killed an Irish cop Ultimately they failed and Burns was marched through the streets of Boston by the Southern Cavalry -- back to slavery and the South. Amos A. Lawrence wrote that was the moment he decided he would become a dyed -in- the- wool abolitionist. One of my poems was inspired by this. I used many journals and letters from folks who were involved in all this .I really tried to get inside people's heads.

DH: Where did you get the subtitle “ Lords of the Lash and the Loom?”

KG: Of course Charles Sumner dubbed this unholy alliance between the gentry in the South and North, as such.

Dh; Did Francis Cabot Lowell steal the plans for the Power Loom from the British?

KG: Yes-- this Lowell—related to Amy Lowell, and Robert Lowell—was tarnished forever by his theft. It seems that Lowell was importing textiles from the U.K. but he realized he could make more money if he had the Power Loom in New England. He memorized the plans to the Loom-- much to the chagrin of the British who gave him a look at the new machine, when he was visiting there. Paul Moody ( Moody St. in Waltham is named after him) set up the original factory in Waltham—he recreated the Power Loom.

DH: You were a founding editor of COMPOST magazine in the early 90s. Now you edit s spoKe magazine. How did this new venture come about?

KG: Well I wanted to do another magazine. I was doing editing for the online magazine JACKET—so I kept in the thick of things. I have great resources at Boston University where I teach. I had a lot of help from students from Christopher Rick's Editorial Institute, and elsewher. The theme of sPoKe is much like COMPOST. It is an American-based international magazine. We have a wide variety of local poets, ancient Chinese poetry, etc... Ben Mazer is going to doing a translation of new Romanian poets in the next issue.

The Blood of ’76

Amos A. Lawrence, 1854

Three years ago I offered my support
to protect U.S. Marshals from the mob.

This time I prefer to see the court
razed than see this man’s newfound freedom robbed.

They marched him down State Street in procession.
Cavalry, artillery, and cannon.

U.S. troops before him and behind him.
He held his head up and marched like a man.

The windows on houses were filled with faces,
though the streets and alleys had all been cleared.

We thought Boston the safest of places,
that here freedom could never disappear.

We cannot stand that this was not a crime.
I have to tell you that it is high time.

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