Leadwood: New and Selected Poems 1998-2018, by Daniel Crocker, is both a hailstorm against injustice and a safe space for an injured mind. It is as though Crocker has invited you to watch him pick the scab of a wound that has been closed and reopened for decades. You are apprehensive until it begins, and then you are captivated. The ritual daringly, almost recklessly, threatens to go wrong or cross the line and go out of control. It is painful, jarring, and perhaps compulsive, but it is also soothing, it is affirming, and it is endlessly hopeful that nonetheless, the wound will heal.
The town of Leadwood, Missouri, was founded in 1906 by St. Joe Minerals Corporation as a lead mine. It poisoned three generations of families in the name of corporate profit. Daniel Crocker, whose father and grandfather worked in the mines and whose childhood was spent among the ruins of chat dumps––the covering and uncovering of corporate lies––is indignant and nostalgic, furious and forgiving. Crocker’s collection of these poems, spanning two decades, and their dedication to Leadwood, is a fearless confrontation of the pitfalls of his hometown and the lasting hold they have.
The relationship between a person and their hometown is often a complicated one. Crocker explosively figures the poisoning of Leadwood as one example of the worldwide abuse suffered by working-class communities at the hands of “The Company.” He understands his hometown as one among countless, and extends this awareness to an embracing portrait of everything that is truthful and ugly about exploitation. Leadwood’s toxicity extends beyond the literal cancer that plagues its residents to their mental health, as inherited generational trauma rears its head in the form of desperation, addiction, and suicide. “What I really mean is this: / the lead runs deep.” It not only runs deep, but it runs everywhere, as “children all over the world are thin bones in plastic.” Crocker nevertheless identifies the singular silver lining amongst the wreckage left behind by “The Company” that is, the commonality of this experience of poverty and trauma. He fiercely asserts hope that this common consciousness takes hold, “and people everyday … feel the universe like a blanket around them.”
The tensions between control and chaos, affirmation and negation, and individuality and communal connectivity are what pumps blood through the poems of this book. The power of Leadwood is its ability to affirm through negation, perhaps the same way that human life can be built out of the toxic ruins of a town like Leadwood, Missouri.
Over the course of the later poems, Crocker delivers a bold and encompassing exploration of bipolar disorder. The speaker adopts personas, such as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, or characters from Sesame Street as a mechanism for grappling with, fighting off, embracing, understanding, or caustically joking with the disorder. The contest between control and mental chaos is held steadily before readers’ eyes and yet, is not exploited. Leadwood speaks in a poetic voice that is at once anguished and aloof as Crocker lays bare the complexities of one’s identity if it be defined by such socially-freighted aspects as origin, genderqueerness, bisexuality, marriage, parenthood, and more. The undercurrent of Leadwood carries the fear that a body or mind poisoned by the plagues of a hometown might somehow bear its toxicity contagiously, delivering poison into all aspects of life. While this fear is never fully extinguished, a battle plays out among the pages of Leadwood while Crocker avidly maintains hope for future generations.
Daniel Crocker used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home. He can remember when he was a little boy. He and his grandmother could hold conversations entirely without ever opening their mouths. She called it “shining”. And for a long time, he thought it was just the two of them that had the shine. Just like you probably thought you was the only one.
Sundress intern Grace Prial is a graduate of Rutgers University-Newark with a BA in English. She lives in New Jersey and is passionate about her studies on the reflection of political movements in literature.