Joseph Kalar was born in Merritt, Minnesota, the second son in a family that would eventually comprise nine boys and a girl who died as an infant. The family lived for a time in a tarpaper shack in a mining village. Kalar completed the training program at Bemidji Teachers College and then taught for a year in the remote town of Wayland. Feeling restless and isolated, from 1928-1930 he travelled across the country taking odd jobs and reporting to the radical journal New Masses on conditions everywhere he went. In addition to poetry, he published fiction and a particularly savage brand of cultural satire. He then worked in the lumber and papermill industries and became active in union activities and in the political efforts of the Farm Labor Party of Minnesota. Along with Sol Funaroff, Edwin Rolfe, and Herman Spector, he was one of the poets presented in the collection We Gather Strength (1933). "Papermill" is one of the notable examples of the proletarian poetry of the 1930s. A limited edition of his work, Joseph Kalar, Poet of Protest,was issued by his family in 1985, followed by Ted Genoways’s fine and compelling Selection of Kalar’s work, Papermill: Poems 1927-35 (2006). Kalar’s oft-reprinted poem “Papermill” is an almost expressionistic portrait of an abandoned factory.
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