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Poetry Moment: 'Steel Will, 1937,' by Dr. Cherise Pollard

Dr. Cherise Pollard
Dr. Cherise Pollard

This is Poetry Moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, author of 20 books, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

Welcome to Poetry Moment.

In recounting their own stories, grandparents often share traditions, culture, opinions, and the historical moments that define them. In today’s poem, “Steel Will, 1937,” Cherise Pollard speaks in the voice of her grandfather, William S. Pollard, Sr., as he muses on hard work and love.

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Cherise A. Pollard, Ph.D., is Director of the Poetry Center at West Chester University and a Cave Canem and Callaloo Fellow. Her poem, “Sugar Babe,” was a Finalist for the 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. Her chapbook, Outsiders, won the 2015 Susan K. Collins/Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Pollard is co-editor of the Show Us Your Papers poetry anthology (Main Street Rag Press, 2020) and is currently co-editing Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Motown Poetry Revue.

Cherise Pollard describes her grandfather as “a working-class poet who devoted his creative life to writing formal verse” and who became “President of the Pennsylvania Poetry Society in the 1980s.” In the title of today’s poem, “Steel Will, 1937,” she gives us her grandfather’s name, his occupation, and—through a play on words—a strong sense of his personality. Here is a man who worked hard and felt deeply, but also one keenly aware of the vastly different worlds of steel pit and front-porch lemonade.

Here's "Steel Will, 1937" by Dr. Cherise Pollard
                  --for W.S.P.
- - -
I enter those death pits every day,
work steel through fire. I swear
the heat hardens my bones.

The air burns my lungs
brown, my blood runs
hot as liquid ore.

Tonight, I will sit a spell
with the light girl, ask her
if I can touch

her soft brown curls.
She’ll bring me lemonade,
I made it myself, she’ll say,

as if crushing the bitter
flesh deep into sugar
is work. She knows nothing

about the way slag moves,
nothing about the heat
that rolls deep within my veins.

Publication credit: “Steel Will, 1942,” Connotations Press. February 2011.
- - -

That was “Steel Will, 1937” by Cherise Pollard. Thanks for listening.

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at moment.

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.