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analyses of particular works in Lascaux and other caves. The title refers to the sprigs of juniper that served as torches for the cave painters. The various readings of cave art and their significance are a brilliant display of scholarship and sophisticated speculation. Even if he can’t prove his main thesis, that this is both the cradle and the burial of some grand mistake, he has managed to weave a lot of threads of history and art together to suggest how we began to think and invent, and where poetry and narrative originally sprung from. Anyone who has visited these caves will be astonished at their resemblance to the cathedrals that came well afterwith their echoes, sacred paintings, and the chambers in which altars were put up much like the naves of a church. John Beecher, a descendant of the Abolitionist family of Beechers, witnessed much of the middle decades of the last century from the vantage point of a social activist at odds with almost everything he saw in America. He was the scion of an Alabama steel-mill executive, but scrabbled through the Depression years as a mill hand, where he began writing labor poetry that was as realistic and powerful as were the photographs of Walker Evans. Beecher lives among the voices of Pete Seeger, Carl Sandburg, union organizers, the impassioned moral conscience of Amy Goodman. There’s even a touch of Tom Waits in his tough-guy rhetoric, all the kids he knew riding the rails up and down in the ’30s. Beecher’s poems are rambling, sometimes loosely framed narratives, but his passion condenses suddenly in an image, a line, a detail that makes the poem feel like a crushing moment in a play. You forget the lilting conversation and concentrate on a single painful phrase. Here’s the opening from “Report to the Stockholders”: he fell off his crane and his head hit the steel floor and broke like an egg he lived a couple of hours with his brains bubbling out and then he died and the safety clerk made out a report saying it was carelessness and the craneman should have known better from twenty years experience than not to watch his step and slip in some grease on top of his crane and then the safety clerk told the superintendent he’d ought to fix that guardrail We have forgotten how powerful labor realism can be in a country in which factories and unskilled working life have been obscured. We only seem to know the life of the successful, those who make decisions and earn the big money. The life under the heel, as Jack London once described it, is invisible in our time. But thanks to Steven Ford Brown’s careful editing, John Beecher brings it all back in lurid detail, and in stark language that will not let you drift or close the book. His testimony is first-hand, and his compassion for the workers around him is never allowed to become sentimental or pretended. One More River to Cross should be a gift to every manager trying to trim his work force or raise production quotas without overtime pay. For that matter, anyone who hasn’t been on a factory floor or done the heavy lifting should read this book as a moral duty. Paul Christensen’s latest book is The Mottled Air from Panther Creek Press. He is co-editing a book of eco-essays with Rick Bass for Wings Press, due out this fall. Interview, continued from page 25 mine. Also I don’t present the picture of a beautiful homeland that was lost to me. I don’t have that nostalgia for home. I missed my family, I didn’t miss a great nation whose people were all sweet. If someone wants to get a picture of what Libya is like from my book, it’s a human place, a place that has generosity and kindness and women who are oppressed and children who were abused. Nor am I willing to just settle for being an exile in this country. Sometimes when you hear exiles talk they have nothing to say about what’s happening in America and that, I feel, is the central compromise: Okay, you came from a shitty country, great; you are not so happy here, great; you miss your country, great. You as an exile and even as an ethnic American poet are allowed to complain about the problems of your ethnicity, but you are not allowed to complain at large. This is the problem with a lot of ethnic American poetsthey’re very provincial, they can only speak the sufferings of one community at the ignorance of others. As a conscientious human being I can’t do that. I don’t know where translation plays into all this but what translation teaches you is that there is something before you that is whole, that needs to be conveyed. It teaches you to try to perfect the poem at the cost of yourself. The work is deeply impersonalyou are in the service of this poem and not of your ego. If you treat your own poetry in this sense, you’re going to work at the poem because of what the text demands. And the text demands more than your emotional concerns or your ego can offer. This issue of a greater impartiality helps us get into the nuances of the truth, an artistic truth. FM: It seems like the perfect antidote to the Romantic notion that the lyric moment is the private moment, which makes so much poetry in the States seem provincial. KM: It is provincial because the self is small. That’s the problem. The great poets are the ones who have a wider sense of what they can see, of what they allow themselves to see, let alone what they allow themselves to feel or empathize with. Somebody like Adrienne Rich, to me, is a great poet because of what she has gone to see. Even Robert Hass, in some ways, is great in that regard. He’s willing to see the whole nation, and that becomes part of his subject matternot just what happened to him. Maybe translation hones our ability to be sometimes less personal, more technical, more focused on the work of art and its possibilities 36 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/16/04