Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Evenings in the Slubber Room


I’ve been thinking about life in the factory and wondering how many people are left that even heard the word "slubber".

I also remember, 25 years ago, discovering a poem called "Factory". Antler wrote the poem at age 24 in 1970 while working at a Continental Can Company factory along the Milwaukee River just north of Milwaukee. His job was to scoop can lids into long narrow paper bags and cardboard tubes as the lids came down a chute from a loud machine that punched the lids out of sheets of aluminum. [From Antler’s Website which includes two passages from the poem.]

"Factory" opens:

I
The machines waited for me.
Waited for me to be born and grow young,
For the totempoles of my personality to be carved,
and the slow pyramid of days
To rise around me, to be robbed and forgotten,
They waited where I would come to be,
a point on earth,
The green machines of the factory,
the noise of the miraculous machines of the factory,
Waited for me to laugh so many times,
to fall asleep and rise awake so many times,
to see as a child all the people I did not want to be...

In August 2002, Antler was profiled in a Judith Steininger article, Free to Be Disciplined. The poet counted Whitman, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti as his mentors and listed other writers that had influenced him:

"Jack London (‘Call of the Wild’ and ‘White Fang’) was my early role model. I wanted to be a novelist like him. I really like his autobiographical novel ‘Martin Eden.’" When Antler talks reading, he obviously prefers poets — even local ones like Marty Rosenblum ("The Holy Ranger Harley- Davidson Poems") and Susan Firer ("The Underground Communion Rail"). About the Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder ("Hay for the Horses" and "Lookout’s Journal") he says, "I like him for his questioning the deepening intrusion of modern industry and his key images of ecstasy." From Snyder, it’s a short segue to Robinson Jeffers ,the Big Sur poet ("Gale in April" and "Salmon Fishing").
"Jeffers like Whitman sees sex spiraling out into nature, a sunrise or starry night can be a sexual experience. Emily Dickinson is also very important to me. She was very alone in her life, had doubts, and was never gregarious. I’m her type." Last but certainly not least, he mentions Flannery O’Connor ("A Good Man is Hard to Find"), one of the greatest American short story writers; a Catholic woman in the Southern Baptist south who surely understood the complications of inclusiveness.

I remember the Piedmont textile town where I grew up and which is no more.
I remember
- second shift in the slubber room of the cotton mill (pictured above and long since razed)
- the mind-numbing repetitiveness in the din of the factory
- a desiccated old man who propped himself up with a broom and had worked at the mill for 75 years of his life
- long rows of machinery spinning furiously, sending up tiny fibers that filled the air and gave the factory light a soft glow

I remember waking the next day, coughing cotton dust.

The pictures and the words are fading away.
Slubber (noun) from the verb slub, to draw out and twist
1. A soft thick nub in yarn that is either an imperfection or purposely set for a desired effect.
2. A slightly twisted roll of fiber, as of silk or cotton
Etymology unknown.

Click over to Occupations in the Cotton Mill, for more terminology rapidly leaving the language…slubber hands, creelers, doffers and more.

Pictured below - a 1907 street scene just several blocks away from the cotton mill.

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