BELT: Your poems do a wonderful job of transforming a city’s decay into beauty without romanticizing the image of America’s failed industrialism. How does The Rusted City set itself apart from other works that exploit or generalize the Rust Belt experience?
Hurt: I felt it was important to write about a Rust Belt city without glorifying urban ruin or falling into nostalgia for the good old days of industry. I was born into decline, so those days were never a part of my life. In the book, I wanted to imagine a world in a miraculous return to the past wasn’t even an option — a world already made from the rust . . . The metaphoric mergers between the characters and the city’s decay prevent the Rust Belt setting from being reduced to a romantic or dramatic backdrop; these characters are their city.*
Reading through fellow UC colleague and friend Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City recently, I found myself marveling much at the ambition of the book’s central metaphor, each poem adding to the logic and myth of a world not parallel but more chipped and glinted from ours.
I include the interview excerpt above because it describes aptly what I mean by “central metaphor.” Already an engaging concept, the book’s most pleasurable moments for me are when the metaphor of a decaying city permeate into human experience.
In the poem below, one can see the unique tension of Hurt’s city-mythology at work: a childhood scene is complicated by the metaphor of the rusted city, and vice versa, in a confluence that makes for a captivating reading experience.
The Quiet Mother Cups the Favorite Father’s Ear – Rochelle Hurt
with her lip. It quivers on her tongue like a lump of pudding, a tapioca earlobe. The smallest sister is behind the wall, watching through a termite hole. She sees their hands and legs tangle into a knot of twine on the bed. When one of the hands reaches up and ties itself to the chain in the ceiling, black spills into the room. The smallest sister gasps and shreds of rust flutter from the peephole into her mouth. They snag their way down, crumpling like foil in her throat.
* The rest of the BELT magazine interview with Rochelle can be read here.
For more on this poet’s work, check out her site here.