Book Review: The History of Steel

The History of Steel: A Selected Works by Rick Campbell

A Book Review by Drew Myron


From the start, The History of Steel roots us to place:

This is who I am; this is where I come from—my river,

my barges, my mill, my smokestack, my town full of soot.

Setting a tone of pride and declaration, this themed collection is both a love song to Pittsburgh and a striking personal history. Though he’s previously published four solid poetry collections, this is Rick Campbell’s most intimate and inviting work.

The pages ooze with slag and smog, in poems vivid with memory and mood. “No one danced in our soot-gray streets,” he remembers in “Drinking Rum and Coca-Cola.”

In a manner similar to friend and mentor Philip Levine, Campbell shares poems from his working class roots. He sinks back into the city’s mills to create a poetic reflection of get-by and grit.

The language here is distinct to the region— slag, smog, smoke — and the imagery is vivid enough to pull us with him to the river’s foul banks in “The Poem in the River”:

our world began here and it’s come to this—

the mill burning the black sky, cranking, screeching,

hissing through the night. The beauty

of the fire and light dancing on slick water.

These are poems strong and sure, thick with muscle and ache, but it’s the essays — just two, I wish there were more — that set this book apart. In these straightforward mini-memoirs, we get ballast for the poems.

“We lived in a steel town in a steel valley,” he writes in “The New World.” “Everything we had and most of the things we wanted or hated came from the mill across the river or mills up river.”

When his mother attempts suicide, it’s Campbell and his brother who must save her, and then carry of mix of anger and guilt when she is committed to a mental hospital. The childhood hauntings pore from Campbell in a grainy but fevered film, and as readers we feel the heft of these confessions. They both give weight to Campbell’s more opaque poems and provide pause for compassion — his and ours — to rise and hold.

In another essay, “Last Parade,” he offers a candid accounting of his father’s life and death: “I never liked my father,” he admits. “He made me nervous.”

Primarily a showcase for previously published poems, these selected works — not to be confused with a collected works — provide a curated Rick Campbell retrospective.

At 63, Campbell is too young for a swan song collection, but with poems divided into Discovery, Exploration, Settlement, and Redemption Songs the book carries a distinct sense of looking back.

And it’s only natural that Campbell, an accomplished poet, professor and publisher, would take stock. He served as director of Anhinga Press for 20 years, and has taught at Florida A&M University for nearly 30 years.

The History of Steel gives us two histories really, that of poet and place. This collection is a mix of heartache and pride calling from miles and years away. You can’t shake your history. Campbell says so himself in the sobering villanelle “Elegy”:

We live here, where we were always bound.

Steel towns have ways of calling home their own.

Too many of us come back to this town.



This book review appears in Kestrel, Issue 34, Spring-Fall 2015



Stitched at Valkarie Gallery

Altered book art by Valerie Savarie


In a mystery
that threads

horizon to sky
river to ocean
bird to flight

a simple stitch
binds me
to you

with a filament
as ordinary
and grand

as earth to sun
love to life

- Drew Myron


I'm delighted to share this poem and join 2 artists and 10 writers taking part in  Ekphrastic: A Collaboration of Visual and Literary Art, showing at Valkarie Gallery in Lakewood, Colorado.

Ekphrastic: in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness.

The exhibition is an inspired collaboration between artists and writers. Each writer was invited to submit a poem, which was then visually interpreted by the two artists.

Ekphrastic runs September 23 - October 18, 2015. Opening Reception is on Friday, September 25, 6 - 9pm, with a Poetry Reading on Saturday, October 10, 5 - 7pm.

Artists  |  Valerie Savarie & Sharon Eisley

Poets | Lincoln Carr    Bree Davies   Susan Froyd   Nicole Haag   Toni Lefton   Rob Lessig   Drew Myron   Kimberly O'connor    Rebecca Snow   Colleen Teitgen-Humphrey   Trinity




In October


In October

       “Month I became the thorn.”
                    —  Sandy Longhorn

Month I clung
to sun, to bird song,
to long shadows.

Month of first chill, fire
and furnace clatter.

Month of chanterelles
and decay, understory
and apples. Of early nights,
early dinner, deep sleep.
Month of soup, squash.

Month I begged
for more time, begrudged
socks, searched
mothy sweaters.

Month I reached  
for bread and blades,
cursed the metallic sky,
my small heart, slow limbs,
my inability to rise.

Of false frights and deep fears.
Of grip and wish. Month of
the first long prayers.

- Drew Myron

Published in Kestrel, Fall-Winter 2014



Poem Central: Word Journeys

Instructions, exactly

Take this medicine
on an empty stomach
preferably half to one hour
before breakfast. Take this

medicine with a full glass
of water. Take this medication
at least four hours before
taking antacids, iron

or vitamins
or minerals
or supplements.
Take or use this medicine

exactly as directed. Do not
skip doses or discontinue
unless directed by your
doctor. Take this

medicine exactly
as directed.
Do not skip

- Drew Myron

Instructions, Exactly is a found poem. A whole text, lifted from my medicine bottle and reformed — with line breaks providing places to pause — into art. I'm happy and honored to have this poem included in Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers by Shirley McPhillips.

Packed with tips, techniques and practical tools, this handsome book is a focused and valuable resource for poets, teachers, and poets-in-the-making.

Divided into three parts — weaving poetry into lives and classrooms, reading poems, and writing poems — Poem Central gathers together a range of voices: professional poets, inspired teachers, known and unknown writers, artists, illustrators, musicians, editors, and students, who offer examples and samples of how poetry plays a part in their lives. This down-to-earth approach gives the book an encouraging and inclusive vibe.

Poem Central is truly a journey for, and with, readers and writers.



Getting Lost

Getting Lost, a write-over poem I created for 2014 National Poetry Month, appeared in the Eugene Register Guard.

Many thanks to Brian Juenemann, of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, for using his column, The Local Shelf, to shine light on Oregon's literary landscape.