The poems, written in the voices of Gibson, her family members, and the people who knew her, take on love, loss, failure, and desire. Some confront the drama of failed marriages, troubled family relationships, and alcoholism. Others spin the dramatic details of hunting accidents and subarctic survival into compelling stories in verse. They embody the opposing voices of an era during which men and women struggled in different, but overlapping, universes.
By staring at Gibson through the spectral lenses of the people around her, the documents she left behind, and the vision of a contemporary poet, the particulars of GibsonÆs life are transformed into an exploration of the people history usually forgets. Steam Laundry offers the reader the chance to try on the dusty, mining-town overcoat of GibsonÆs life.
|Publisher:||Red Hen Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition, First edition|
|Product dimensions:||7.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Nicole Stellon O’Donnell was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. She earned a BA in Philosophy and Literary Studies from Beloit College. She worked as a programming intern at The Loft in Minneapolis before moving to Alaska, where she earned her MFA from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Women’s Review of Books, Ice Floe, Cirque, and other literary journals. Her essays about berry picking and dipnetting have appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, and she has written commentaries for the Alaska Public Radio Network on a range of topics, including fashion, a family murder story, and whether or not the World Series is an emergency worthy of a last-minute flight from Alaska.
She is a former poetry editor for Permafrost, and since 2007, she has worked as a columns editor for Literary Mama, a journal for the maternally inclined. She teaches creative writing and has been recognized with a BP Teacher of Excellence Award for her work in the classroom. She has organized readings and literary events in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Togiak.
While working on Steam Laundry, she received an Individual Artist Project Award from the Rasmuson Foundation to support her writing and research. Part of that grant helped fund babysitting for her two daughters, Cedar and Coral, so that she could get into the archives, slip on white gloves, and unfold the hundred-year-old letters that came to inform the poems. She still likes reading other people’s mail.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oh, how I wanted to love this. O'Donnell tells the story of Sarah Ellen Gibson, or Nellie as she prefers, through a series of poems told from the perspective of Nellie and those around her. The poems are broken up into three parts: Nellie and her husband being separated while he searches for his fortune, Nellie and their two sons joining her husband and toughing it out in Alaska, and Nellie abandoning her family to move to Fairbanks with the man she loves. The poems are backed by research which really was the most compelling part.This collection is part poetry and part historical fiction and unfortunately didn't fully satisfy me on either front. My expectations of poetry may be too high--I like it to be chock full of meaning, transcendent. Even for ordinary events. Poetry should make the ordinary extraordinary. These poems occasionally got there for me, but usually the significance of the events seemed to be lost rather than enhanced by the medium. As far as the historical fiction side goes, I needed more. I wanted to delve even further into Nellie's life: the decisions she made and why she made them. Or if I couldn't get the why (and this goes back to the poetry thing), I wanted to feel what she felt.Maybe O'Donnell tried to do too much in too few pages. Maybe I was too excited to read this. Although I gave Steam Laundry only three stars, it almost got there for me, and I will absolutely read whatever O'Donnell puts out next. It's a good first work, and I bet her second will be even better.
It is Wonderful! I have not read many historical accounts of gold rushes, mining but living in Alaska I am aware of some stories about Alaska and striking gold in other places such as California. The desperation, deprivation, mud, alcohol, are in all those stories but quietly stated in Steam Laundry with the result that the images are even more vivid. The poetic writing of this slim book drew such clear and often painful pictures of the men and women the family within its pages that I felt I was viewing actual photographs on every page, not just words. I totally agree with Tom Sexton's comments on the back of the book, especially when he says "I could feel the bitter cold of the landscape and the desires and passions of the characters as I read poem after poem unable to put the book down until I reached the end." I looked forward to reading each night and saved it as a treat. Only busy days and tired eyes kept me from finishing sooner. Fiction that seems truer than reality.