Dave (ca. 1801–1870s), recorded as David Drake after emancipation

It seems appropriate that Dave should be the inaugural poet of the Common Verse plan to periodically feature the writing of poets whose voices—speaking to us across time—add meaningfully to ongoing reflections on the experience of labor, and the culture created by the organization of work, expressed through poetry. To write publicly from inside any work situation is an assertion of one's intelligence and dignity that requires a calculation of potential consequences. Dave wrote, dated, and signed his verses—and his pottery—in cursive script on the shoulder of some of the large alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery he turned under the harsh conditions of industrial slavery in the Edgefield District of western South Carolina (see fig. 1). Fired in hundred-foot-long kilns, the area's highly regarded jars and jugs—essential for food storage—were used throughout the region.1 Stoneware was Dave's public platform, and during...

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