Haunted by his father’s autopsy of a workman he witnessed as a child, Gewanter forges intensely personal poems that explore the fate of our laboring bodies, from the Carnegie era’s industrial violence and convict labor to our present day of broken trust, profiteering, and the Koch brothers. Guided by a moral vision to document human experience, this unique collection takes raw historical materials—newspaper articles, autobiography and letters, court testimony, a convict ledger, and even a menu—and shapes them into sonnets, ballads, free verse, and prose poems. The title poem weaves a startling lyric sequence from direct testimony by steelworkers and coal-miners, strikers and members of prison chain-gangs, owners and anarchists, revealing an American empire that feeds not just on oil and metal, but also on human energy, impulse, and flesh. Alongside Gewanter’s family are hapless souls who dream of fortune, but cannot make their fates, confronting instead the dark outcomes of love, loyalty, fantasy, and betrayal.
“Magnificent. . . . This work is impelling for its bold certainty and strong lyric—but also a platform for humanitarian arguments and a predicate for poetry as investigation. . . . As many books as there are waiting here on the desk, I had to reread him—for paradoxes, for managing excellent poetry within a social context, and just plain old decency.”
Grace Cavalieri | Washington Independent Review of Books
“David Gewanter has always been a writer of immense tonal range, his poems moving effortlessly between tenderness and Swiftian invective. Fort Necessity is his finest collection thus far, thanks in no small measure to his magnificent title poem, written in a documentary mode, that recalls American masterworks such as Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead and Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony, while at the same time featuring searing composite portraits of the most cutthroat of cutthroat capitalists, from Frick and Rockefeller to the brothers Koch. Gewanter shows us what an authentic poetry of resistance can look like—tough, uncompromising, and at the same time consummately artful.”
David Wojahn, author of World Tree
“Fort Necessity takes a darker turn than David Gewanter’s earlier books. Here the lively, inventive language of his imagination moves from and beyond the personal into a more public realm, with a series of powerful documentary poems about the human misery and violence resulting from the greed of industrialists, the brutality of prisons, and the cruelty of back-and-spirit-breaking, insufficiently compensated labor. What’s most remarkable is that even when Gewanter’s poems are put together from direct quotations—Andrew Carnegie, Tarbell’s history of Standard Oil, Emma Goldman, Mother Jones—they convince you that nobody but David Gewanter could have written them.”
Lloyd Schwartz, author of Little Kisses
The Coin Purse
She said: I always talk against my chances,
paint a picture of what I want
and show the ways I won’t get it—
I fill up a room of desires,
tally all the pieces there,
and then, like the moving man
carry out the cargo. Such freedom.
When it’s empty—that is,
when I see my listener’s
eyes drop, finding the room
cleaned out, the dusty air
and echoing voice, then I click
the conversation off,
snap it like a little coin purse.
I hoard my luck.