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Cottonopolis 

Rachel Lebowitz (Pedlar)

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Halifax poet Rachel Lebowitz’s new book, Cottonopolis, opens on a very gloomy Manchester. “Not today’s city, but ‘Cottonopolis,’ that city of smoke and grit and back-to-backs, that burst into being in the 19th century: the city of Mary Barton, the city of child labour, the city’s geraniums on the windowsills of the poor.” Here we have a collection of prose poems that explores the fraught history of the cotton industry, giving often brutal focus to the slave trade in the Americas and the devastating working, and thus living, conditions in Lancashire. The book is structured as a museum exhibit and contains many found poems fashioned from the writings of slaves and factory workers. Most of the poems are further contextualized in the beautifully-curated section of notes that concludes the book. In light of the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh, considered to be the deadliest in the garment industry’s history, the stories told in Cottonopolis are not too far from the imagination. “Understory is the story now,” Lebowitz writes.

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