American Poets: Ed Lahey

by lizard

Ed Lahey was born in Butte in 1936. A man of the mines, one might think Ed would make an unlikely poet. Luckily Ed had a supportive father who, according to the author’s note, saw his son writing a poem at the age of 15, asked to see it, read it, and kept it in his billfold until his death.

I saw Ed read at Shakespeare & Co. five years ago when his book, Birds Of A Feather first came out (published by Clark City Press). The man wields his words with clarity and resonance. A student of Richard Hugo’s, Ed learned and found his own voice; a voice that distilled his experiences in the mines into potent shots of verse.

But before we get to the poetry, I’d like to get political for a second (I don’t think Ed would mind).

Part of what I see as the terminal fracturing of the left is the fissure between environmentalists and the remaining laborers who still scrape their livelihoods from extractive industries, like mining. this divide seems to position intellectual liberals wielding degrees against the “hard working patriots” the Republican party has successfully wooed to the “conservative” camp.

But once upon a time, when America had a strong manufacturing-based economy, labor ensured the left was a strong counterbalance to the inherently exploitive nature of capitalism. Ed’s poems spring from the days when those who sweat for their dollars were still capable of reminding the boss’s the beast of labor could bite hard when acting in broad solidarity.



Underground we fought the earth together.
For the hell of it, and Peacock copper.
From the womb she was no tender lover.
The stone-boat rocker wouldn’t budge
a crumb to a beggar’s cup,
or toss a meatless bone
to a blind man’s bitch. Until we made her.
Compressor moan and drill chatter
in her lamp-lit face
forced surrender form the stone.

Midwife to the mine he taught me how
to spit a round and slant a lifter.
He grinned greenhorn at my back
when I smelled fear curl thru the drift
and cling to shaky fingers
as each to each they lit spliced fuses
one by one. And then we ran,
down the cross-cut tunnel
Soon the shudder of ground
brought us back to witness birth.

The mice sat in the corner of our eyes.
They were wise. We watched them listen
to the timber groan beneath
gravid loins of working earth.
With care and art, mindful of the mice,
we imitated moles. We spilled thru mealy
low grade zones to court her frigid heart,
where once solutions boiled
and, dying darkly, cooled.

This poem seems to be about the fight between working men and the earth (personified as feminine), so its language is appropriately visceral and misogynistic. It fits.

Other impressions?

  1. bonkrood

    I’ve always heard the mines being personified as female, from miners who came and spoke to my Butte History class at Montana Tech, from documentaries, and more. And we Buttians would not expect anything less than gritty poetry from one of our own.

  2. Pleased to read a fine poem about a subject as solid as hard-rock mining. Writing should be about something instead of the shadow of something. Now I’m going to buy one of Ed’s books. Thanks, lizard.

  3. ed lahey deserves to be listed among the best of the blue collar poets of the world…. his sensitivity to everyman’s plight and his keen observation of tough living makes all who have struggled thirst for more…..

  1. 1 Butte Poet Ed Lahey | Seaneamon's Blog

    […] is a link to a great post from 4 & 20 Blackbirds, a blog one of the kids I grew up with writes on […]

  2. 2 An April Feast Of Poetry « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Ed Lahey […]

  3. 3 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Ed Lahey […]

  4. 4 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Ed Lahey […]

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