berks county

the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county – Vol. 3 by Jennifer Hetrick

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By Marian Frances Wolbers


FootHills Publishing released the third and final volume of the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county by Jennifer Hetrick this past autumn. Swimming within these tender memory-poems are the jagged edges and startlingly soulful snatches of remembered machine work in the factories and businesses of Berks County decades ago. Faithful to the worker-narrators’ storytelling, Hetrick braids honorable, dignified word-portraits on her lyrical image-loom, whether a worker affixed left-hand side doors on military trucks or spent every day “securing strong stitches” on endless bottoms of belt loops. The detailed troubles and trials of men and women in stanzas that—short or long—perfectly match each person are juxtaposed with unabashed pride in the unique parts each individual played in the workplace, using hands and minds to produce not just hosiery, paint, or smoked meats but the totality of community, economy, opportunity, and familial necessity. Each alliteration, phrasing, and turn of thread in the line displays a range of emotion and circumstance: wry humor (“masking tape, a rare few worked with it as i did”); awareness of war; bodily stresses (“every night, i came home, felt fuzzy / wads of sweater aftermath in the creases of my neck, elbows”); and philosophical recall (“nestled in an italian neighborhood. / we were the only black family there. my neighbors / used to give us tomatoes from their backyards. i didn’t know / prejudice”). Generous and vivid are the pictures of the way things were, as well as the way folks speak and see themselves in their own mind’s eye. This is a gem on multiple levels in its sweet artistry, thoughtful voice, documentation of the past, and revelatory extraordinariness of ordinary men and women.

As a fellow writer and documenter of days, I am very holistically aware of how this work stretched well back across time and place and memory-worlds of these workers. It’s always been my impression that people record every silly little ant that crosses their picnic table at a birthday event, while ending life with virtually NO record of their long, long, much-longer-than-home-life hours spent in life’s labors under the thumb of a supervisor.


Marian Frances Wolbers is a self-confessed fan of interstices and author of novels (including Rider, St. Martin’s Press), short stories (The Southampton Review, Westview, Remarkable Doorways), drama (Return of the Sun Goddess, Holding the World, American Beauties) and poetry (Juked).





the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history of berks county by jennifer hetrick – volume 2

the labors of our fingertips--poems from manufacturing  history of berks county, volume two - COVER

By Philip Terman

in this digital age of factory closings, jennifer hetrick’s unique and admirable project to interview these workers and craft—in their own voices—stories about their labor and lives is an absolutely essential document, squarely in the tradition of walt whitman’s experiment to sing the “living and buried speech” that is “always vibrating here.” the poems are acts of preservation, but they are also more. these belt-sewers and barstool-makers and brick-stackers tell us the stories of their lives: betty kunkel recalling “jigging to that fiddle-sound, / our fast-footed steps carving out / cowboy and cowgirl sugar memories” or the way leroy fretz, whose life was “calculated in bricks” can say, “at the end of the day, you were tired.” in poem after poem, hetrick reminds us that poetry is everywhere, if we care enough to listen. most impressive is her invaluable ability and wisdom to really hear the spirits inside each of these speakers and to alchemize their voices into a poetry which becomes a history still alive now, here, at our fingertips.


You can find the book here:


Philip Terman’s most recent books of poetry are Our Portion: New and Selected Poems (Autumn House Press) and Like a Bird Entering a Window and Leaving Through Another Window, a hand-sewn collaboration with an artist and bookbinder. A selection of his poems, My Dear Friend Kafka, has been translated into Arabic and published by Ninawa Press. His poems have appeared widely. He teaches at Clarion University, is co-director of The Chautauqua Writers Festival, and directs the Bridge Literary Arts Center in Franklin, PA.