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History - United States History - Women in History

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Kissing the Shuttle

ISBN: 9780692069219
Binding: Paperback
Author: Mary Ann Mayer
Trim: 6 x 9 inches
Published: 7/1/2018

Original poetry, compelling photographs, and contextual summaries depict the rise of textile mills and King Cotton in the 19th century through the turn of the 20th. With industrialization came a matrix of events, sometimes deadly, always in the name of prosperity: Labor ''paced'' for the first time to feed the world's frenzy for finished cloth. Northern collusion in slave-grown southern cotton. The tuberculosis epidemic. A common weaving practice that spread TB, ''kissing the shuttle,'' sucking thread through its eye, was nick-named ''the kiss of death.'' This subject connects with others in this lyrical narrative set largely in Rhode Island. The birthplace of American industry, the state also pioneered visionary reforms: ''open-air'' schools to curb TB, the first hot school lunch program and formal outdoor recess, child labor laws and factory sanitation. This inventive collection reenacts a little-known history, one at risk of being forgotten.

Mayer also probes New England's connection to southern slavery, and the bond between ''the lords of the loom and the lords of the lash.'' She makes history feel alive and personal, through diverse voices, sensory details, and lyrical rhythms. Even silence. ''Under menace of storm clouds / ships slip northward on amnesia, full / of cotton, tobacco, denial / bound for enlightened Providence.''

Glimpse mill towns teeming with new arrivals, toxins coloring the Blackstone River, tenement porches strung with clotheslines. One extended poetic sequence allows readers to experience daily life inside an open-air school and TB sanatorium through the eyes of a spirited young girl--inspired by the author's ancestors. This insightful collection does not just answer to history but shows its human face. It will inform, engage, and surprise readers of poetry and history alike, and be appreciated by students middle-grade and up.


Mary Ann Mayer's poems, essays, and translations have been anthologized and widely published. This is her third poetry collection. She is also the author of Telephone Man and Salt & Altitudes (Finishing Line Press). Her honors include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Award and Boston's GrubStreet Poetry Prize. She has been a finalist for the May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize, and nominated for the Massachusetts Book Award and a Pushcart Prize. Mary Ann is a native of Rhode Island's Blackstone Valley and holds degrees from Boston University and Tufts. She practiced occupational therapy for many years. She volunteers with the Ocean State Poets promoting the reading and writing of poetry in under-served communities and serves as an editor for Crosswinds poetry journal.

"Mayer skillfully weaves history with verse to create a tapestry of the Rhode Island textile industry that is a blend of both triumph and tragedy." From the Foreword by Dr. Patrick T. Conley Historian Laureate of Rhode Island

"This is a unique, beautifully resonant, and lyrical collection that takes the subject of early mill workers and expands it into a meditation on so many topics. The author makes the historical personal and the personal historical throughout her connection to the mill workers of the distant and more recent past. She uses the topic as a springboard to look at the many injustices underpinning the mill economy. Beautiful and thought-provoking." - Jean Medeiros

"These poems give voice to people just trying to have lives as others are trying to own and monetize them. I am moved by the ways Mayer lets these histories enter her at a depth where they emerge as poetry. She follows her curiosity about others' lives, holding her own language in abeyance, listening to their language and their silence." -Nancy Jasper, Poet and Licensed Clinical Social Worker

"I admire Mayer's ability to transform historical facts into poems marked with emotion and rhythm and relay a history of the common people in a young America that many of us are not aware of. She vividly brings life to these mills and young workers as well as the healing environment of Rhode Island's open-air schools which began a national movement. Here are the dire facts of an epidemic but also the "esprit de corps" of the public health campaign to stamp out TB." -Caroline Deuerling Occupational Therapist

"The volume's unusual title "Kissing the Shuttle" was not an expression of love for the loom, but rather a method of refilling shuttles with bobbins of thread by placing one's lips against the shuttle's eye to pull its thread. Such a contagious practice, called "the kiss of death," infected the weavers, mainly women and young girls, thereby establishing a nexus between labor and debility. That nexus is poignantly described in a litany of free verse, vivid and factually based, but embellished with poetic license. Mayer skillfully weaves history with verse to create a tapestry of the Rhode Island textile industry that is a blend of both triumph and tragedy." -Dr. Patrick T. Conley Historian Laureate of Rhode Island

"Mayer unfolds a poetic tapestry in Kissing the Shuttle by infusing history with local color and depicting heartfelt accounts of lives from a not-so-distant past. Kissing the Shuttle reveals the complexity of what it means to belong to Rhode Island. On one hand, the author's voice scholarly confronts a multitude of dehumanizing systems that served as an engine for the Industrial Revolution and beyond. And on the other, she illuminates both the hope and deep sentimentality she holds for this place that resonates with so many locals of the area. The thoughtfulness with which Mayer encapsulates all of these intricacies is an accomplishment that can be praised by artists and historians alike." - Ryan Dean Teacher and small business owner