(How Poems Work, January 2004)
Peter Trower’s “Industrial Poem” is an anachronism: a ballad, first published in 1978. Originating in medieval traditions of oral folk song, the first printed ballads date back to the early 16th century and the form was often adopted by poets well into the 19th century. In the 20th century, however, the ballad, rooted in straightforward narrative, singsong rhythms and regular rimes, fell into disrepute as a vessel for serious poetry, and was relegated to the ghetto of popular doggerel. Not one to kowtow to authority, Trower wields the ballad stanza like a fine old rust-flecked sword. Often used to convey outrage against social and economic injustice, particularly during the Industrial Revolution, the ballad is a fitting structure for the content of this poem.