An Introduction to Martha Collins by Emma Bolden

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Anthracite Fields, composer Julia Wolfe drew from a rich variety of sources – oral histories, advertisements, geographies – to craft a powerful representation of life in Pennsylvania’s coal region. In a 2015 interview with NPR, Wolfe spoke of her desire “to honor that life” in a way that led listeners to think deeply about its implications. “We’re them. They’re us,” Wolfe says, “And, basically, these people, working underground, under very dangerous conditions, fueled the nation. That’s fascinating and very important to understand.” Wolfe’s words could just as accurately describe these extraordinary poems by Martha Collins. Drawing from her own family history, Collins’ gorgeously crafted sequence shows the intersections of the personal and the political, of communities and corporations, of commercial avarice and climate protection that characterize the history of coal mining. Collins exposes the greed of energy companies who wield political power for financial gain even after the industry’s damage to person and environment is itself exposed, hanging over our history like “a veil of hazy smog over the city.”