Sunday, March 04, 2007

David Mason: Ludlow, a verse novel

Reviewed by: Cicily Janus

Cicily and David came from the same town but they do not know each other. She does know the publisher. And yes, I do know Cicily. There! so many of us know each other! Cicily and I have been emailing for over a year. She is an "emerging" writer with some great ideas. You can find out more about her through:

Ludlow is published by: Red Hen Press: Contact them for copies!

For 48 hours of my life, I was utterly mesmerized into another time and place with this magnum opus of prose. From the minute I opened this novel, written completely in verse, I could literally not put it down. It was almost as if there was a cast of thousands of miners working against my ordinary life, calling at me to keep reading, keep reading…. Or maybe it was just Luisa Mole, Louis Tika, or Too Tall MacIntosh, the MC’s of the book calling out to me.

Their haunting lives leapt out of the pages and into my heart. Although I could not identify with them in the most basic sense of the word, I could surely feel the sympathy for their trials in life. Stunned from page one, incarcerated by his words by page 17, David ominously begins his empathetic look at the miners life at the time of the Ludlow massacre:

The miners made widows too, when timbermen
or diggers deep inside the earth cut through
to gas and lanterns set it off, or when
the pillard chambers fell. You heard a slump
within, and some poor digger ran out choking
there was thirty boys still trapped in the seam.
And some days all you’d see was bodies carted
down the hill and bosses counting heads.

Not only is this passage particularly powerful and ominous to the rest of the book, but it is acutely relevant to the recent tragedy involving all of the mining families in the U.S. This portrait is so evocative, that I can only imagine that it was what was in the mind’s eye of all of those who suffered in those last moments.

David Mason poignantly looks at this tragic piece of American history and Colorado history in a fictional light and makes beautiful, heartrending poetry out of it. He blends the melting pot of the time into a stew of stories and catastrophes, turning the reader into a believer of the power of verse only to end it with:

I dream Luisa gathering her story,
no trace of her parents’ accents left in her,
though they are part of her life’s inventory.
She uses names like Tikas, Rockefeller,
Lawson, Mother Jones. The communards
have heard of some of these, and she unveils
a vision of the camps in simple words,
a scrap of song, a memory of hills.


I can only dream that maybe this is how David pieced his masterpiece together, with scraps of imaginings and songs, wafting down the peak through his window while he dreamt at night in the cool Colorado air. My hat goes off to David, and I pray that he produces a hundred more of these in my lifetime, as the world needs these stunning words as sustenance for the soul.

1 comment:

Jim Dwyer, CSU, Chico said...

Ludlow is a truly powerful epic narrative poem, arguably the best since George Keithley's National Book Award winner The Donner Party way back in 1972. Another good recent example of a poet writing in narrative form, this time as a "novel" is Forrest Gander's As a Friend, forthcoming from New Directions in October, 2008.

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