The Verso Paper Mill in Bucksport closed in December 2014. Five hundred and seventy people were put out of work. It wasn’t just people out of work, though. It was out of a way of life, really, which originated in 1930 when the Depression already had a stranglehold on the working classes, supported at its peak in the 1980s as many as 1,350 workers and their families, and was as central to life in the Bucksport area as churches used to be in ages past. The mill closure was not just “an economic blow,” to use a cliché that quietly feeds the sick notion that all the meaning is in the money. It was a social, emotional and psychic temblor.

In the aftermath, Patricia Ranzoni, of Bucksport, one of Maine’s most widely respected poets, took it upon herself to document the way of life terminated by the mill closure. The result is “Still Mill.”

In 2015 she put out a call for personal testimonies, poems, recollections and any pertinent statements on people’s experience of the mill. Submissions flooded in, from mill workers, family members, writers, artists, even songwriters. She uncovered newspaper clippings about the mill from the 1920s forward. Photos. Drawings. Recipes. “Still Mill” in one sense is a scrapbook on the life of a community. But it’s more than that because inside the writings are both the history and the emotions of the era.

The writings are so numerous and various that it’s not possible to single out everything worth mentioning. But notable in my reading:

Wesley C. Stubbs, a mill worker from Dedham, offers a vivid look into daily life inside the plant — “Paper making is a process that needs to be tweaked.” Barbara Tilley recounts “A Woman Working in the Paper Mill,” “Mill Family Memories” and more. There are selections from several generations of the locally ubiquitous Bowden family and a sheaf of poems from a group of RSU 25 fourth-graders — “Loud, Loud, Loud is the mill.”

A longer, really powerful poem, “Maine Real,” by a humble, non-literary mill worker, John “Bubba” Campbell, demonstrates the force that can transfer through words when the emotions are authentic, the thoughts are clearly focused, and the music is attuned:

Part Mic-Mac we’re born to water and trees

Worked twenty four hours sometimes

Keep the machines running, they got a sound

Then a sound came from New York and Boston

From Men wearing gray suits

Heard them snicker and laugh

It echoed up the eastern seaboard

Rick Doyle, now a domestic abuse attorney in Bucksport, offers several well-crafted poems, a play and a recollection of working in the mill summers as a college student. Sharon Bray, of Orland, publisher of Narimissic Notebook and one of Maine’s shrewdest, most persistent off-the-radar rural voices, gives us reflective lines like these: “Coming home through Bucksport / in the warm, spring night, / the smell and thrum of the mill / put me on my knees at Nana’s / bedroom window, 1962.” Dan MacLeod, a journalist and son of the owner of a prominent Bucksport restaurant, thoughtfully explains how his dad, George, “found a way to keep going. So can Bucksport” after the mill.

Other contributors whose names may be recognized from Maine’s literary and journalism worlds: Philip Booth, David Brainerd, George Danby, Ardeana Hamlin, Maine poet laureate Stuart Kestenbaum, Gary Lawless, Rhea Cote Robbins. More.

Not least in this compendium are poems by Ranzoni herself, who for decades has been probably the most evocative and penetrating voice from native Maine, its geographic joys, complications and generational sufferings that are otherwise invisible to people who did not grow up here in the early to mid-20th century.

“Papermakers Still”:

Because it was in our trees

Because it was in our air

Because it was in our waters and fire

Because it was in us heart to bone

Because it still is

Because all fibers might be pressed

Because tea leaves can be read

Because pulp can be shredded and beat

Because petals can be dried and spread

Because threads can be felted and paged

Because the papermakers’ sons

and daughters still are

Because it is in our hands

One thing you take away from most of this, apart from the down-to-earth historical detail that would otherwise be lost, is a sense of deeply ingrained integrity and commitment to live as well as possible, at work, at home, in town. This is what it’s all about. An uplifting fact of human nature that appears to be lost on the mill owners from far, far away who believe in phrases like “economic blow,” but not much else, it seems.

“We look at every single mill … at whether that mill has more value as a joint venture, or more value if that mill if it is sold, or if we try to ambitiously fill that mill with new product and upgrade the mix,” Verso CEO Chris DiSantis said this summer when asked about the company’s remaining mill in Jay, where hundreds have been laid off recently. (www.pressherald.com/2017/08/10/verso-mill-may-get-further-investment)

The word “value” clearly does not mean the same thing to the mill managers that it means to the creators of “Still Mill.” Dip into the book, and you’ll see what I mean.

“Still Mill” is available from North Country Press (www.northcountrypress.com/still-mill) and local book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and other books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].