Bill Lawson Presents to a Full House

DSC_0143Despite our first blast of winter weather, Bill Lawson filled the house in early January when he gave an interesting talk on historic Youngstown “Puddler Poet” Michael McGovern. Lawson put McGovern’s poems in historical, economic, occupational and literary context when he talked about immigration patterns, the job of a “puddler,” and the style and popularity of McGovern’s poems, which take up the cause of the laborer.

DSC_0116We learned that McGovern lived to be 84 or 85 (sources conflict), much longer than most iron workers. It was “hard, heavy, dangerous work; the lifespan of puddlers and helpers after the Civil War was less than 40 years. The hours were long (12-13 per day, six days per week); wages low.” Certainly it was beneficial to McGovern’s health when he “left the iron and steel industry during a strike; worked as a State of Ohio Oil Inspector (obituary) and foreman in the Youngstown Street Department (1920 Census).”

Michael McGovern’s poetry was published in The Youngstown Vindicator and the Youngstown Telegram, cultural periodicals like Gaelic American, and The Amalgamated Journal. His collection Labor Lyrics and Other Poems was published by the Youngstown Vindicator Press in 1899.

Interested in reading poems from this collection? Visit the Ohio Memory Collection.

2 thoughts on “Bill Lawson Presents to a Full House

  1. PintofStout

    As I’m reading through the book, I thought I’d link to some relevant vocabulary and sundries.

    First, the “charging whistle”: The whistle to alert the charging of a vessel with scrap and hot metal.

    “Signing the scales”: I had an idea this was the pay scales for the laborers and found this NYT piece from 1886 to verify my suspicions.

    As far I got for now, but these poems are great and still timely in a parallel way. For instance, he references the “upper ten” (Squeezing His Lemons, Ch I), which sounds much like the 1% to me. The ills and hypocrisy he laments in the management rings true still the upper one percent and their politicians today.

    I can’t wait to read more.

  2. lityoungstown

    Thanks for your comments and links to relevant information! I agree; the issues he takes up are depressingly timely, although the horrors of ironworking in his day are unthinkable today. So that’s encouraging.



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