A thematic collection of poems that reveals the inner life of a working class woman in steel-town Pittsburgh, THE LAUNDRESS CATCHES HER BREATH (CavanKerry Press; September 2012; $16.00), by acclaimed poet and novelist Paola Corso, is the latest in CavanKerry’s “Notable Voices” series. Unfolding as a impressionistic narrative, and mixing prose poems with free verse, the story Corso tells is one of hard-earned subsistence, conveyed through metaphor and with unbounded wit.
“Paola Corso’s THE LAUNDRESS CATCHES HER BREATH focuses like a Leica on the details of daily urban working class life from a fiercely rendered narrative perspective,” says Sandra M. Gilbert, author of Belongings. “Pioneering a mode of tough yet poignant documentary verse, Corso draws us into the grainy, grimy world of factory and clothesline, diner and lung disease and filthy water with extraordinary skill.” The “laundress” who gives voice to these poems, a part-time waitress who still lives with her father and washes his clothes, made filthy by mill work, has an indefatigable spirit, which ultimately comes to its fore in a mystical vision.
The poems are gathered into three distinct sections. The opening Inhale finds the laundress trapped in a relentless cycle of drudgery and ever-stifled hope.
She swore off cigarettes, thinking
the cost of the carton she’d save
every week would be enough
money to rent a room, move
out of her father’s house.
But then Stubby cut her hours
again and the Maytag suds
saver broke the same day.
(from “The Laundress Catches Her Breath”)
Her bellowing father, whom she calls Twenty Horns, is quick to anger. The college-educated uncle she revered is dead. The air she breathes is fetid with industrial pollution. And yet, she holds onto the promise of something more.
In the second section, Hold for Ten Seconds, the laundress is visited by the Black Madonna of Tindari, who speaks to her from the Maytag, telling her, “The circle of darkness is pure Spirit. It will never disappear no matter how many times you wash this.” (“One Thousand Ten”). The final section, And Exhale, nurtures some hope, as “She dreams she flashes a union card and her middle finger then leaves her father’s house” (“A Well-ventilated Basement Apartment”). The laundress’s story culminates with a lengthy poem, “Heiress to Air,” that recounts a smoke-induced dream after a work accident, a startling vision that straddles reality and an apocalyptic landscape.
“THE LAUNDRESS CATCHES HER BREATH makes me think of William Carlos Williams and his Paterson—at least his politics and mythic strange bits,” says Julia Kasdorf, author of Poetry in America. “This is a song of lament for all labor and the earth made outrageous with a magical imagination. It is a crazy, gorgeously-crafted romance of the American worker.”
About Paola Corso
Paola Corso was born in the Pittsburgh area where her Southern Italian immigrant family found work in the steel mill. A New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry fellow and Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award winner, she is the author of Catina’s Haircut: A Novel in Stories on Library Journal’s notable list of first novels in Fall 2010, Giovanna’s 86 Circles And Other Stories, a John Gardner Fiction Book Award Finalist, a book of poems, Death by Renaissance, and most recently, Once I Was Told the Air Was Not for Breathing.
THE LAUNDRESS CATCHES HER BREATH by Paola Corso
Publication Date: September 2012
Price: $16.00; ISBN: 987-1-933880-31-0
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