Men at Work
This collection explores the tension between public and private arenas, with the figure of the laborer juxtaposed against that of the poet. Learning to “snap a line,” in Bill Witherup’s world, is as much about manual labor as it is about writing. Witherup has created a dynamic form of poetic memoir where the personal abuts the political and elegy intermingles with vivid stories about what kills us while we are alive. The poems in Men at Work concern themselves with the survival of the world as it should be, even when faced with how the world actually is: they are tough, filled with a beautiful, sorrowful hope. Displaying black humor in one line and lyrical natural beauty in the next, Men at Work is a triumph of theme, craft, and vision that surprises the reader with every move.
The full text of Bill Witherup’s Men at Work is stored at Albertson LIbrary at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
Hanford: March 1987
White crocus and purple hyacinth
In the cracked asphalt street.
Teller-light flickers in the guts
Of wild geese preening on the river bank.
Bleached gravels, dead river, white boxcars.
Doing the Storm Windows
While my birthday turkey
Sweats in the oven
I polish the house’s lens
And pray to a God I do not believe
To spare us the flash, the wind, the ice.
Once By Hanford Reach
I cupped an exploded milkweed pod—
The air so still
Seeds would not shake out;
The light in the husk
Both blinding and delicate—
Like that moment at Ground Zero
When eye-pods implode
Dark seeds of death light.
Copyright © 1989 by Bill Witherup
Bill Witherup was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 24,1935, the oldest of four children. The family moved west to Richland, Washington, in 1944, where Witherup Sr. found work with the Hanford Engineering Works. A poor student but a "fair high and low hurdles man" in high school, Bill Witherup attended Willamette University, where he ran the quarter mile for the track team. The following year, he attended the University of Washington and "got contaminated by the poetry virus" in Theodore Roethke's class. In 1955, he stayed one week at the University of Iowa, unable to ignore his need for open western spaces. Time in New Mexico was followed by enrollment at the University of Oregon, where he encountered James B. Hall in English and Chandler Beall in Comparative Literature. Instead of taking final exams in the spring of 1957, Bill Witherup joined the Air Force and has been "pretty much on the road ever since."
His publications include books of poetry (Horsetails, with Stephen Taugher, Monterey: Peters Gate Press, 1970; The Sangre de Cristo Mountain Poems, Northwood Narrows, NH: Lillabulero, 1970; Love Poems, Monterey: Peters Gate Press, 1972; Bixby Creek & Four From Kentucky, Mt. Carroll, IL: Uzzano, 1978; and Black Ash, Orange Fire: Collected Poems, 1959-1985, Point Reyes Station, CA: Floating Island, 1986), co-translations (This Endless Malice: Twenty-five Poems by Enrique Lihn, with Serge Echeverria, Northwood Narrows, NH: Lillabulero, 1970; I Go Dreaming Roads: Selections from Antonio Machado, with Carmen Scholis, Monterey: Peters Gate Press, 1973; Arctic Poems by Vicente Huidobro, with Serge Echeverria, Santa Fe: Desert Review, 1974), and a collection co-edited with Joseph Bruchac, Words from the House of the Dead: Prison Writings from Soledad, Trumansburg, NY: The Crossings Press, 1975.