Kissing the Shuttle: A Lyric History

Kissing the Shuttle: A Lyric History

by Mary Ann Mayer


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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.

"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


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780692069219
Publisher: Blackstone River Books
Publication date: 07/01/2018
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 1,311,964
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Table of Contents

Forward ix

Introduction 3

A Note to the Reader 7


Children Very Plenty 11

Mill Girl 14

Kissing the Shuttle 16

The Fresh Air School, 1908, Pawtucket, R.I. 18

Golden Rule 19

Jumping Lessons 22

The Superintendent Pins Up Positivity Posters 23

TB's Gifts 24

Taken Away to Wallum Lake Sanatorium 28

Occupational Therapy 29

Noon Whistle 30

White Water 33

Fever Dream 34

Children's Hall 35

Sanatorium Nursery 36

Class 3 Privileges 37

Gramma's House 40

Settling In 42

With Windows Open (health creeps in) 44

What Child Is This 45

Searchlight 48


The New Creed / Gospel of Industry 52

The Mill Bell & The Clothesline 54

The Super Pins Up More Positivity Posters 56

Charity Begins at Home 58

Woonsocket: America's Spunkiest City 61

World Heavyweight Champ Comes To Pawtucket 64

Coffle 68

The Work 70

Walt Whitman's Pants 72

Heavy Traffic 74

Ivory in Connecticut 75

Lords of The Loom, Lords of The Lash 80

Build Canals to Tame this Water… 82

Fresh Air Summer School, 1911 (Don't Tread On Me) 86

Sunday Afternoon 88

Aggie's Angel 90

Arrival Home 91

Afterword 93

Acknowledgments 97

Sources and Works Consulted 98

Image Source List 102

TB Progress Note 106

Author Note 108

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Kissing the Shuttle: A Lyric History 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Cabrita1956 More than 1 year ago
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 through 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.
Ryan Dean More than 1 year ago
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 and craft with which Mayer encapsulates all of these intricacies is an accomplishment that can be praised by artists and historians alike.