A review of Rust Belt Love Song / Megan Neville
Game Over Books (29 pages) $11.99
I have been thinking a lot about metaphors for the shifting of identity in relation to place. Something like the way that water, when contained in different environments, will present differing properties each time while still maintaining its fundamental nature. This is how Rust Belt Love Song operates—applying different lenses to the Rust Belt and observing its resultant properties.
Megan Neville uncovers a startlingly broad scope of the Midwest, not only touching on its idiosyncrasies but also its virtues. She routinely utilizes the lens of generational trauma to demonstrate how family histories serve as a positional guide throughout childhood and early adulthood. Neville portrays the way the Midwest lives in a legacy constructed around family and its values:
“…Up come the struggles
of my parents. Up comes the depression
of my grandmothers. Up comes the sins of this
country. Up comes the hunger of this world.
Into the tall brown bag goes everything I pull
up, everything I did not plant but must tend.”
“This structure is too small to have housed whole mythologies /
a whole calculus of humans folding socks in front of the television
for decades while animals roasted in the oven…”
(At the Conclusion of the Hometown Tour)
Among the other revelations Neville includes in this vein is the way in which Midwesterners so often cling to history and the ways in which the past is more present because we cling to it, centering nostalgia as a prevailing characteristic of the Rust Belt. It is against this backdrop the manuscript makes its arguments, both carrying and struggling against this history:
“I should not speak of Rust Belt romance,
for intrinsic in being from a place is leaving it
(Sonnet for the Smokestack Exhalation…)
“He refuses to eat vegetables
from our garden, says nothing
grown half a mile from a steel mill
can be safe. What about me then?”
(It’s Just That Sometimes I Feel Trapped)
Neville also finds ways to incorporate a post-industrial collective grief, local ecology, and the struggle to find yourself in a culture of repression. The broadness of this debut is staggering and the conversations the pieces have with each other are fascinating. Underneath the intricate web of Rust Belt Love Song lies a simple statement that encapsulates the book (Dry Spell): “Now that I have, I am.” Now that I have lived, have loved, have remembered, have found my agency—I am.