Voices From The Appalachian Coalfields
by Mike Yarrow and Ruth Yarrow
Bottom Dog Press

"A rat won't stay around where the top's gonna fall.
You see rats running,
you might as well turn and get right after them."

The married authors of this book conducted a series of interviews with coal miners and members of their families. Then they published what they heard as a collection of poems that come from the mouths of husbands, wives, parents, and progeny who burrow into the bowels of the earth to earn their daily bread. The experiences recounted through these free verse vignettes are indeed poetic in their ability to encapsulate truth and emotion in verbal snapshots of mining life. There are also a number of photographs included that add to the collection’s unblinking stare at one of life’s oldest and most dangerous professions.

A sense of eloquence finds its way through the unsophisticated and often grammatically challenged prose poems that make up this collection. Plus there is a feeling of absolute honesty inherent in virtually all the recollections. While the miners speak often of their physical experiences, it’s their emotions that form a memorable mosaic. They speak of the pride they take in doing such rigorous and hazardous work. They tell of the fear that is seldom shown but is almost always with them. They relate the pain of being laid off, the camaraderie underground, in the union halls, and on the picket lines. They share the struggles their spouses endure trying to pay the bills and clothe and feed the kids. They talk about marriages that have not been able to survive the constant dread of cave-ins, black lung disease, and prolonged strikes.

Similar to Studs Terkel’s oral histories of common Americans, this compilation of attitudes, opinions, and beliefs remind us of the innate dignity of people who toil daily unseen and unheralded. Now, thanks to the Yarrows' book, the toil of these underground laborers will not go unheard.

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