Building the Farmer from Parts: A Documentary Poetry Collection

Open Access
Mayberry, Joseph Andrew
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • Documentary Poetry
  • Poetry
  • Documentary
  • Great Depression
  • Farming
  • Twentieth-century
  • Trumbauer
  • Kulpsville
  • Non-fiction
The historical record is often dominated by impressive, but also sterile, facts and figures while the voices and experiences of common people are disregarded. This thesis aims to reclaim an untold part of twentieth-century American history by capturing the voice of an ordinary farmer who struggled and triumphed through both world wars and the Great Depression. I tell these stories through documentary poetry, a genre combining the literary techniques of poetry, such as concrete imagery and compression, with the journalist’s or historian’s impulse to record the facts. The language for each poem was collected from original letters and writings by John Edgar Trumbauer as well as personal interviews conducted with surviving relatives and contemporaries who knew him well. Once I had collected individual moments, anecdotes, and memories, I selected fragments from the larger body of texts and oral testimonies and pieced them together. From there, I refined and rendered the language into a poetic form retaining the original voice and power of the source material. I chose material for each poem in order to capture familiar stories of hardship and triumph while highlighting the less familiar moments of everyday life that helped to build the motivation and resilience required to survive in the face of great hardships. The resulting collection provides new perspectives on familiar events in American history. And the stories express American ideals of determination and self reliance that are still relevant to the challenges we face today.