For the past eight or so years, my poetic (and non-poetic) life has been consumed by the story of Warren, the mill town that once occupied land now covered by Loch Raven Reservoir, the primary source of Baltimore’s municipal water supply. I didn’t choose this subject so much as it chose me: when my grandmother moved to an assisted living facility at the age of 99, among her belongings I found a nondescript schoolbook that bears the inscription, “Marian Brown, Warren School, Maryland.” She lived in central Baltimore County for her entire life, but I knew little about her childhood. Once I pieced together the bare outlines of the rise – and demise – of the town of Warren and my family’s personal connection to it, I was hooked.
Warren Poems comprise an overarching blank verse narrative interspersed with “lyric hotspots,” moments when the narrative is suspended and the focus zooms to a particular character or event in the town’s history. Luckily for me, the owner of Warren Manufacturing had entered into a secret deal to sell the town to Baltimore in 1908. The ensuing controversy occupied the courts and newspapers until the town was destroyed 14 years later, so I have a wealth of archival material to draw from. What’s largely missing from the historic record, however – and what I find most interesting – are personal accounts of daily life in Warren. In some cases, I glean very detailed information from letters and personal reminiscences; in others, a photo or brief anecdote provides only a spark. Sadly, when my grandmother died in 2006 at the age of 103, she took any living knowledge of Warren with her. There are no known survivors left for me to interview.
The inherent challenge has been how to balance the concerns of the poetic form with the factual truth (or the closest version of the truth I can discern) and to do so with as much musicality and image as possible without obscuring the narrative thread (I’m a big fan of accessibility). My goal at all times is to be historically accurate and emotionally true.
When I am finished with this material (if that time ever comes; I feel like I will always be writing about Warren), I am sure I will feel a little sad. But I’m hoping that the town’s 900 or so ghosts will let me rest, at last.