Poetic Labor Project

October 2011

BILL LUOMA BRIAN WHITENER IDA YOSHINACA JACKQELINE FROST JILL RICHARDS LINDSEY BOLDT MELISSA MACK MICHAEL NICOLOFF SEAN LABRADORY MANZANO STEPHANIE YOUNG WENDY TRAVINO

BILL LUOMA works as a developer in the mobile software industry. He is the author of Some Math and Works and Days.

Days & Works My Lap Touch Romplr Virtual Paranormal State

BRIAN WHITENER has worked as a sports photographer, dishwasher, music reviewer, adjunct, and in a prison. His most recent projects include False Intimacy (Trafficker Press), De gente común: Arte, política y rebeldía social (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México), and Genocide in the Neighborhood (ChainLinks). He edits Displaced Press.

We live in a world of experience, of worlding, no longer (just) a world of representation. What I mean by this is that “experience” (in quotes) or work on the realm of the possible (which shapes the actual), on “being” (in quotes) itself or worlding, has overtaken prior cultural formations predicated primarily on representation and “breaks” with (prior) representational schemes. One banal example (of many) could be the last Bjork album which is distributed across multiple platforms, more an environment (an operation on the virtual) to be lived, moved through than an “album,” (of photos, of “representations,” of discrete pieces of aural structures) as if Satie’s music had become not just like the furniture, but had wanted to become the walls, light, and time as well. If the classical figure of early twentieth century capitalism was the street-walker, who directly sells their body as a commodity, one figure of labor today is the camgirl, who sells an experience, access to a psyche, likes/dislikes, personal information, who creates and sells (not just) a body, but a worlding (not yet a “world”). If the classical figure of early twentieth century capitalism (ironic emphasis on the repetition) was the worker, who sells their labor power, one figure of “labor” today is the redundant surplus briefly integrated into the circuit of production only to be then discarded, shunted beyond the edge of the human on the other side of an ontological gap, into another world, desaparecido, which is another worlding, equally dark. If the classical figure of early twentieth century war was shell shock, which outed as fatigue and disconnection, the figure of war today is post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that is located somewhere between the mind and body, between matter and spirit, that draws a new line between the material and immaterial; that is, one that acts neither on the body (discipline) nor the mind (ideology) but on a (new) total complex. In the medical literature, no one can figure out how to treat these new forms of trauma as they sometimes out as physical, sometimes as mental (can we conclude then that it is neither? But rather a new line, a new “body,” a new demarcation between the virtual and actual?). Look at all the traumas around you: natural disasters, crimes, wars. Where do they come from? Is it crazy to think we live in a world that is being disciplined by new forms of catastrophic experience, by trauma. Meaning that both the category of what counts as a trauma has been amplified and that more potent vectors of application have been created, making us exposed at every turn to sensations that used to be reserved for the most far off battlefields (as the “shocks” of WWI were coterminous with the rollercoaster, the animated cartoon, cinema). Note that the term catastrophe only takes on its current

meaning (mathematically) in the 1950s and then (more generally) with the onset of financialization: catastrophic risk (a black swan, a risk that cannot be foreseen, the catastrophic event realized on the vector of trauma). We live in an all or nothing world, a world of no return. Turning to “our” world, a literary world: Have you noticed that no one is celebrating the 100th anniversaries of literary modernism? Is that because there’s nothing to celebrate, because we find ourselves in the same tragic position of individual souls facing a systemic crisis? Or because we live in an “intensified” world following a different vector, one of worlding, trauma, and moves to new forms of innervation, and not representation, shock, and the bodily apparatus of cinema? Is what has been called chaos cinema, post-continuity cinema (the end of classical Hollywood editing in blockbusters like Transformers) a symptom of the end of one bodily apparatus of cinema and the slow invention of another that prepares a new mind/body unit (a new line between the material and immaterial) for trauma, for the loss of the prior referent? Literature’s strongest links remain with representational and anti-representational schemes (two sides of a single coin) and the bodily sensorium attached to the apparatus of the book. The question is not how to leave behind “representation” but rather how to connect literature’s devices, knowledges, and affective relationships to an edge that would match the new problematic of experience, of worlding, of trauma, of this new line between the concrete and abstract. We don’t have much time today, so allow us to speak in images, as if written on walls: Through the waters of history cuts the prow of a ship known as financialization, on one side is inscribed “war,” on the other “communization.” To not out as war, literature must find ways to connect with the latter.

IDA YOSHINAGA has worked some crazy-ass jobs in tourism, fashion, television, law, education, journalism, feminism, and finance. But mostly, she's a recovering academic, the first in her immediate family to attend college, and three decades later, still inexplicably addicted to the university. She writes on colonialism and language in US-occupied Hawai'i, fantastic fiction and genre theory, and transmedial narratology in comics and film.

Labor Day Hawai`i 2011 Furlough Fridays, Furlough Fridays Saved money for the people of Hawai`i: Once a month, publicly funded, "lazy" State workers were forced to take unpaid leave. They said taxpayers heaved great sighs of relief— Freed from the pricey burdens of community— Schooling, social work, traffic safety, Affordable housing, food and environmental Regulation, and other jobs so easy No doubt private firms could do 'em (They said), practically for free. Furlough Fridays—grand management experiment By our ex Governor, a gift to Republicans In states across the union. But her test was Anti-union—which collectively organized Government office clerks, schoolteachers, And other public employees—in garbage, Transportation, public health—could clearly See. And fought. But my union, of college Faculty, more white and male than brown And yellow, in which we Asians and Hawaiians Comprise a struggling minority, this Collectivity of the brightest minds at the State's flagship research university, Got their comparatively sweet pay raises Bargained with her, got divided & conquered From their public union siblings— Stayed silent when our janitors & Secretaries & other campus colleagues were Furloughed straight out of affordable lives. Furlough Fridays: our mid-2000s gift from Hawai'i To Wisconsin, Minnesota, other states with histories Of strong labor struggles, teaching Republican leaders

That if you prime a group of elitist, self centered, Racist public workers, you can keep cutting their Budgets, make them beg for scraps, and not only Will they say yes please may I have another, but They are only to happy to repeat Long colonial histories of racial dispossession, Gender oppression, and I-got-mine greed. Furlough Fridays!

JACKQUELINE FROST is the author of When We Say Brutal (Berkeley Neo-Baroque) and The Soft Appeal (Nous-Zot Press). Her writing has appeared recently in Mondo Bummer, Supermachine, La Fovea, With+Stand, and Try!. She co-curates the Condensery Reading Series and is a member of The Writer's Bloc for non-non-poetic action in Oakland, California. Her poetical/theoretical concerns include economies of desire, the bucolic roots of villainy, and Spectacle. She has worked as a frame maker, a movie theater ticket taker, clothing boutique sales person, waitress, Easter bunny rabbit, landscaper, jewelry fabricator, oyster shucker, teaching assistant, legal research analyst, barista, and other occupations in the underground economy. Five Minutes of Raw Lecture-Notes on Oyster Shucking And the Libidinal Economy of the Young Girl When I moved to California from rural southern Louisiana, I was twenty and I found a job opening animals. Using a specialized knife, I split the hinge of the shell, cut the animal away from its connective muscle and people watch. Symbolically, the association of oysters with female genitalia in relation to act of shucking, is compounded by the sheer physicality of the work and its overt sense of danger. This configuration expresses me an object in reversal, as the dialectic presupposes that there are those who shuck and those who get shucked. But this reversal becomes complicated by my position within the industry of service as a young woman whose social function trumps the danger of that labor, at the point that flirtation becomes directly quantifiable in terms of cash. In so far as sociality is the most valuable commodity on any market, service work for the young girl consists in consuming consumers, via the enterprise of seduction. I profit the Spectacle in that my body’s activity aligns with the “mechanical operation” of a commodified relationship. How can we reconcile the fact that, as Tiqqun notes, “Seduction is an aspect of social labor, that of the young girl,” when seduction, it turns outs, is the only available site of participation in a society wherein all my actions are conditioned by the consumption of my image as young and female and generically so. In this process, I acquire the “obligation of addressing oneself to a certain segment of the sexual market in which everything resembles everything else.” So while standardized emotions are emptied like a purse into the bank of a body that I call mine and begin accruing interest, I can wonder at the pornographic character of an economy in which young girls, like me, are produced and sold. The awareness of my proficiency at converting human interaction into living currency, and my self-aggrandizement as a conduit of charisma, signifies my own complicity with myself as a “the bearer of the most advanced spectacular ethos.” Interestingly, to bring this relation into being, I DO nothing. Obviously my “doing nothing” produces a special kind of surplus value within the libidinal economy in which the ideal of participation as activity that connotes voluntarism is logically foreclosed. As Erin Morrill writes in Pornologue, “I wanna don’t wanna wanna don’t wanna want to be your exhibition provocation.”

It is in this the service industry mimics the socio-sexual fabric, or, the matrix of relations that constitute notions of attraction and reciprocity are always already interpolated within the market of commodities known as human love. And how frightening if we concede to the notion that “Human relationships mask commodity relationships that mask human relationships.” In servicing, the young girl experiences no other agency but to ventriloquize the pallor of life where money’s sensuality evidences. The labor of seduction and the seduction of labor become intertwined and then tantamount. And love in its most abstracted sense is what we wager for a body of work from a body that works. Would a general strike in the libidinal economy, a removal from the sexual market, leave the young girl to suffer the tyranny of what it would mean to become radically liquidated? As we know from Ovid that “Poverty has nothing with which to feed its love.” I can only wonder at what it would be like to see the world without the eyes of a commodity, in the sense that my personality is legible only to be exchanged against kinds of material wealth. The generic desirability of the young girl is produced by human relations that have more market liquidity than cash in hand, in their ability to meet immediate wants and needs. And the appeal for sex appeal to appeal for value generates a type of non-payment wherein we receive ourselves back as a wage, when sex appeal is coded by the Spectacle as its gift. I am interested in resistance to “gifts” given without consent, and ultimately, in the meaning of consent in a capitalist hegemony that requires my consent in order to substitute its interests as the interests of all young women. From here I propose that this consent be put into question with the same urgency that we are drawn to what we love, and it is drawn to us. Works Cited Tiqqun. “Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl.” 1999-2001. http://zinelibrary.info/tiqqun-theory-young-girl-full. 7 September 2010.

JILL RICHARDS

I teach comp, mostly to freshmen. The next class that I keep planning, that keeps getting put off, is entitled, “Women, Modernity, and Revolution.” The title is pretty self-explanatory. But today I want to talk about one section of the course and the way it speaks to problems in contemporary protest movements. The section considers representations of social revolution as narrated by a young girl. My texts are the graphic novel, Persepolis, the film, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the young adult novel, The Hunger Games. I want to talk about these texts today (somewhat distantly) because they all present, in various ways, a very specific fantasy. All of these works use a young girl as a narrator because she offers a seemingly neutral, purely spectatorial viewpoint. Children are not expected to be political actors, so here is a subject that does not have to take a side. For the child, merely observing seems to be a natural, even a neutral position. These texts suggest that only bad or dead parents would not work to maintain this stance of neutrality and inaction until age 18. However, in both these texts and in real life, the nimbus of “adulthood” surrounding either side of age 18 is a little confusing. Protective, panicked, outraged, or exasperated responses to militant political action often use the figure of the child— who cannot know her own mind, or foresee the consequences of her action—as their primary rhetorical stage. This often has nothing to do with the specificities of age 18. Some of you may remember an email that a prominent Berkeley professor wrote last year, complaining that the undergraduates involved in the occupation movement were always coming to her asking for help, always expecting her to defend them against the university. Or you may remember the complaints after the freeway protests, that anarchists were leading unwitting children unto the freeway (three juveniles were arrested, but not taken to jail; their parents were called). Finally, some of you may remember one strain of negative reactions to the Oscar Grant riots: the concern for the safety of Oakland’s children (not just in the riots, but also presumably sleeping in their downtown Oakland beds). And I’m sure you are all aware of the student protests in Chile right now. You may or may not be aware that the student protest movement in Chile has a longer history. I lived there in 2006, and want to speak about my experience then to provide some ground for a more detailed discussion. Five years ago, students in the public and private school systems went on strike across Chile. Students occupied their schools. The largest, most prestigious universities got the most press, but smaller high schools and private schools were also occupied. According to La Tercera, more than 500 schools were on strike. More than 350 schools were taken over by the students. This led to a general strike that included high school teachers, truckers, and other worker unions. During this time, I was mostly in Santiago. The second-largest city in Chile, Valparaíso offered more of a dance party occupation, or Santa Cruz-esque, atmosphere.

On the days of the general strike in Santiago students had barricaded the area near the University of Chile’s main campus by pulling dumpsters and trashcans into the middle of the street and then setting them on fire. This worked for some time to protect the crowds and the looters from tear gas and water canons. I want to note that adult, middle class Chileans—the Chileans that I was living with and working with at the time—were scandalized, just shocked! that Chilean police would use tear gas and water canons on “mere children.” But this reaction only confirms the thing that I want to emphasize here –that the masked people setting the trash cans on fire, and breaking the windows downtown, and looting the stores, were the very young students, the junior high and high school students, not just 18 plus adults attending university. The students that I spent the most time talking to that day were thirteen and fourteen. In many parts of the crowd, very few people had reached their full, adult height. I’ve never seen a black bloc before that was composed of so many short people. The protests in Chile now—what is now being called “Chilean Winter”—have a wider target, and are no doubt composed of some different students, though the photographs and news reports suggest that the population is still very young. However, in each case, both the actions of the students—and the police response to these actions—produced a kind of panic that is, I think, perhaps more easy to critique when it occurs in other political terrains. The language of this panic made me think of No Future, a book by Lee Edelman. The book is about a strain of homophobia that gets excused by the familiar refrain—“we must save and protect the children,” from the gays, in Edelman’s account. The book argues that this sentiment leaves us perpetually deferring political action, and political change, as one generation of children after another grows up. But this language of panic arises around the coupling of “the children” and militant political action as well, though it is less talked about, and though today’s youth may have more experience as political actors than many of their older, critical peers. It is hard to talk about ageism and not sound like a jerk, I think. You end up creating these categories that don’t fit people, their beliefs, or their experiences. Nevertheless, I think it needs to be talked about, especially if, like me, one works with eighteen year olds every day, especially at a moment when a good chunk of the student protest movement in America consists of teenagers, not all technically, legally “adult.” I want to be able to talk about working with these political actors, not shepherding them or showing them the light. Chile then or now is certainly not the only instance, but it serves as a rebuttal of sorts, from the younger students and political actors in our midst. I think we can safely assert that they don’t need us, or anyone else, to save them.

LINDSEY BOLDT lives in Oakland and commutes to San Francisco and Sausalito to work as a teaching artist with elementary and middle school aged people and as an editor with The Post-Apollo Press. She is also co-editor/publisher of Summer BF Press with Steve Orth and contributes her labor to Writers Bloc and Occupy Oakland. Chapbooks include "Oh My, Hell Yes", "Overboard Rampage" and "Titties for Lindsey" (forthcoming). Her first book, Overboard, is forthcoming from Publication Studio Press.

-Introduce self -Tell the people what I do for work: teaching artist -Difficult to decide what to focus on today so I decided to talk about a place in my life where the topics of day converge most dramatically: poetry, activism and work, which for me is in my work as a teaching artist. -Read a poem from Ulloa-Po! and from Marin Juvenile Hall Anthology So, those poems sort of blew me away and still blow me away whenever I read them. I want to say first that when it comes to “teaching” poetry, there isn’t much teaching going on. You don’t have to teach kids to write poetry really, because you don’t have to teach kids how to be imaginative, or inquisitive or observant--all qualities that poets tend to possess and for the really brilliant ones, how they express they’re unique kind of genius. One of the things I’ve learned from being a teaching artist is that poetry is not a specialized realm of esoteric knowledge harbored, cherished and protected by a small group of believers. I’d like to let you all in on a line of questioning that I often preoccupies me. I don’t think it’s necessarily a very productive line of questioning, but it happens. It begins with me considering the state of things: When we are in the midst of an incomprehensibly high stakes global crisis, when our rights are being pulled out from under us by increasingly obvious slight of hand, when I’m never sure if I’ll have work, when some of my students parents are either already unemployed or live in fear of becoming so, when some of my students live in a near constant state of chaos threatened by violence, neglect, indifference, and the very real prospect of and expectation that they will end up in prison. Why teach poetry? If I really want to help youth today why not teach civics or radical political history or farming or environmental science instead? How can I justify my presence in their classroom? How can I communicate the importance of poetry? What do I, a privileged girl from Washington State, have to teach or inspire in my students? Would they be better served by someone from their own neighborhood? Someone who came from a similar background? Would my students respond better to and gain more from a different kind of artist, say, a different artist? Does my style of writing, my aesthetic communicate or perpetuate a culture of oppression? What do my students really need to know to survive? What tools can I give them?

And then I try to relax, try to remind myself that poetry saved me, that it has been essential to my survival in no small way, so there must be something to it. Then, I try to tease apart a mess of emotionally laden memories, patterns of judgment and guilt, etc. and figure out what it is about poetry that is special, that is important, useful, essential, that lets me give it and myself a break. I come back to the qualities I mentioned before: imagination, inquisitiveness observation and also reflection. These are important skills. skills. They won’t show up on any standardized test, but without them nothing can change. Certain things have been made concrete for me through teaching that were only ever abstract. The fact that I know the work of very few poets of color well enough to confidently bring into a class and even fewer poets of color personally, has been made very clear, and the more I try to do something about it, the more I realize how much work I really have to do. So, as the school year ramps up, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do this year in my personal life and in my poetry and journalism classes. I spent a lot of the summer reading, learning, and talking about current and historical radical politics, community organizing and radical pedagogy. I feel afraid about a lot of things. I feel unsure. But I also feel excited about experiments i.e.: -Bringing the Black Panther Party 10 pt Program to a middle school classroom and asking students to write their own version. -Performing/having a day at the beach on a BART platform -Bringing a section of narrative from Karen Tei Yamashita’s I-Hotel to an elementary school creative writing workshop and hoping the students there will find something in it to relate to. -Performing the qualities of imagination, inquisitiveness, observation and reflection in my role as poet, teacher and within a role that feels new even though it was my first, the day I was born in the United States, that of a citizen.

MELISSA MACK does research on publicly-funded social service programs. Singly or collaboratively, she has written many many reports that she often imagines housed in the bowels of the federal departments for which they were written, in unmarked crates a la the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. To make money, she has also hung out ("provided training to") women on welfare, had a paper route, hung out ("supervised") developmentally disabled sex offenders, sold vegetables, hung out ("counseled") with court-involved pregnant and parenting teenagers, and weeded.

September 4, 2011 Dear Poets and Laborers, I’m away because of a work trip to Washington D.C. to feed the machine of government. I do contract research on publicly funded employment programs for a U.S. Department which shall remain nameless, speaking of the occasion of this Labor Day, yet so far from satisfyingly. I grew up inside a military industrial evangelical complex the only way I figured out how to deal with was to follow the rules—politeness, selflessness, financial responsibility—and cultivate an inner life I didn’t tell anyone about. But the inner life is as penetrated by The Complex as the outer one (as St. Paul, Giorgio Agamben, and many others have noted), and all unawares I kept mine contained, clean, heterosexual, and imaginative only in so far as it related to attending closely to weather and to practicing a secretly catholic devotionality that kept my heart soft. My paintings looked like Lionel Richie songs, and my animism applied only to the woods behind my various suburban houses. Why am I telling this story? “And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no ‘breaking forth vision.’” I Samuel 13:1 Well, obviously, that’s not true anymore. Anne Carson says, “Mere space has power.” We’re here, aren’t we? And there are such a proliferation of heres these days. (e.g. huge swaths of the Arab world, the streets of Oakland, that darling occupation in Vienna where they made the youtube dance joint video about hand signals that facilitate collective conversation). In The Time That Remains, Giorgio Agamben’s commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Agamben talks about division. The division he’s interested in is Paul’s division of Jew/non-Jew. But I want to think about the division between poets and laborers—which recalls the penetration of “the complex” into the human interior because the reason we are gathered today is that we are all both poets and laborers. But there is an external division too. We’re here and a lot of other people aren’t. They’re rusticating or computing or fighting wars. It isn’t “us and them” that

concerns me. Just, my sense of alarm is growing that huge portions of my vital energy are poured into a job that is not my Real Work. I want to be here with you all the time—in all the iterations of that “here” and “you” that exist—doing that Real Work. Which of course is a false division, since having to go to my office most days of the week for most of the day is a reality I can’t ignore. But Agamben. He identifies in Paul an idea of a messianic (for our purposes, read that as revolutionary) division of the law’s division of people (for Paul, into Jew and non-Jew, for me/us, into poet and laborer). I don’t have time to explain it in detail, but such a division renders a remnant. (Agamben calls it a dialectic with three elements rather than two: Jew, non-Jew, and non non-Jew.) The division of division renders a remnant that prevents the law’s divisions from “being exhaustive.” Which to me means our identities as Poet and Laborer aren’t exclusive. Though we are exhausted. Agamben also talks about Paul’s idea of the messianic (revolutionary) calling that is “the revocation of every vocation [read: worldly condition], released from itself to allow for its use.” Which I take to mean, I’m still a social scientist. If I now have two vocations, poet and laborer, well, let them both be revoked and rendered inoperative except insofar as they can be used to joyfully rock the casbah. Let them render us a remnant, “hittin’ our rackets like tennis players,” as MIA says. We do our jobs, we work to undo the world in which we have to have the jobs we have. Also most of us make poems. Here are some remnant, revocational activities I especially like these days: Sex. Potluck. Reading and thematic and political and writing and radical ladies groups. Moots like this one. The making of music. The making of poems. The doing of actions. The saying of spells, the reading of signs, the close attention to the formation of sound in the mouth, into words, into cries of ecstasy or rage or grief. The insertion of the body into spaces ostensibly public until you realize the cops in riot gear have it surrounded and are closing in. Radical generosity meaning the pooling of resources, the sharing of housing, the making of texts and books, the bringing of one’s inadequacy, the willingness to participate in struggle wherever we find it, the making of friends. I’d really rather walk across lawns in the dark, watch the light change, make love, meet all strangers in mutual gazing, or not, and have that be safe, have that be productive activity. I don’t think it’s too late for that, exactly. But just like how I have to bill my time in tenth of an hour increments, I have to tithe my time to struggle too. To self- and community-educating. To acting out in the presence of my employer and fellow employees. To clothing myself in remnants from the clothing swap. (Thank you, whichever lady—Lauren, was it you?—offered that cute royal purple puffed sleeve sweater with the lavender seed-pearls sewn on the front and marks of mending here and there. I wore it to address The Department.)

MICHAEL NICOLOFF has worked as a temp, a legal assistant, an unpaid intern, a liaison for orchestral conductors, a copyeditor, a writer's assistant, and (currently) in inventory at an educational nonprofit. Work of a different kind has appeared in 6X6, TRY!, The Brooklyn Rail, The Recluse, and elsewhere.

I want to talk a little bit here about my working life, my writing life, and the selfimages that come out of our relationships with others. I can pretty much tell you right now that I’m not going to reach a well-wrought conclusion, and while I’m hoping this won’t devolve into just a catalog of questions and anxieties, I’m going to risk that in the spirit of collaboration and hope that something here resonates with enough of you to add to the conversation. So to begin: Most recently I’ve been working for an educational nonprofit in Oakland, at a job that started as a two-day temp assignment and then didn’t end. From what I wear and the office-building location, and the administrative assistant job title, too, this could easily be any one of the business-casual clerical jobs I’ve held before and that I’m sure plenty of you have too. But it’s different for me in that rather than being tethered to a desk all day (though there is some of that), I’m working primarily in packing and shipping, which means I’m working primarily with my hands and am on my feet to the point that I might actually want orthopedic shoes. I build a lot of marketing samples containing educational pedagogy, using a variety of plastic sleeves, multicolored printed labels, and lidded boxes, which I in turn pack up in larger boxes and stick with labels from UPS, the US postal service, and, rather rarely, Fed-Ex. I am, like, the best with bubble wrap. Now, I’ve chosen this job, and gone from temp to permanent with a salary bump and benefits, because it affords me certain opportunities. I do like the people I work with, and it’s also nice to work for an educational company whose philosophy, which is based around learning as a social act, is one that in broad strokes I actually agree with. But the ultimate reason it works for me is that there’s a significant portion of my day in which I work independently and in silence, performing rote labor that taxes my mind and creative abilities in just a limited way. That independence and silence in effect gives me “free airspace,” and so I listen to whatever range of music from the library, radio shows, and university lecture courses I can get my hands on. (I am perpetually looking for more, so if you have any recommendations, please make them.) It’s become a sort of boss-sanctioned form of de Certeau’s “wearing the wig,” of seeming to do the work one is paid to do while in fact re-appropriating that time for personal use. The fact that my supervisors are aware of it hardly makes this into some kind of sneaky blow to capitalist hegemony or whatever, but it does allow me a space in which to educate myself, and what I’ve realized is that given the limited number of jobs I’m qualified for, one of the biggest factors for me in choosing one job over another is how much of an opportunity I have to claim that kind of space for my own activity. I have the feeling that I’m not the only one in this room for whom this is a consideration.

I’m going to pause, though, on an image one might make out if you stood far back from these details of my job and then added an equally generalized image of my home economic life into the mix. Okay, so—in that image you’d find me working on what amounts to an assembly line from 9 to 5, then returning home to meet my partner, who has not been working at a “day job” per se, and the young man who is for lack of a better term my stepson. We often have a meal together, then play, read, and tuck him into bed, after which I collapse into a comfortable chair to engage in my “leisure” activities. I’ve tried to play it up as much as I can here for effect, but to spell it out, what this looks like is one of those “masculine provider” scenarios—that supposedly historical, ultimately illusory domestic state that’s become an archetypal tableau in the received knowledge base of many Americans. Now, step a little closer to this image of my economic life and we can pretty swiftly call bullshit for a number of reasons both monetary and otherwise, the glaring one being that my partner is in graduate school. After many years of working in a dead-end administrative job to support her son and barely getting by, she’s now being trained for a line of work that could prove both personally fulfilling and lucrative, and she’s putting in more hours of work into school than I do into my 9-to-5 job. Once she’s out of school the plan is for our roles to switch, for her to work and for me to return to school. But right now, her income as a student and mother provides a make-or-break portion of what pays for our living expenses. There are plenty of other ways this image could be deflated with actual facts, and yet I know both she and I struggle with this image’s cultural weight. Take, for example, that moment, you know the one, when I come home after a particularly relentless day and just want to be released of all responsibility, to not have to cook or do any life maintenance, and to have my stepson entertained in another room while I read books or write or space out. It’s a scenario that working folks of any gender might envision and desire—go to the job, get the work done, come home, “disappear.” But it’s quite disturbing to feel that as a male person but at the same time to couple that feeling with the knowledge that there’s a discourse out there, you know the one, that places male-performed, “public,” monetary-income-earning labor at the top of the totem pole, with the corollary that once that male retreats to the domestic sphere he’s entitled to some r-e-s-p-e-c-t—that, in other words, his status as the earner allows him to control whose needs take priority. It’s in those moments that you can gain some uncomfortably experiential evidence of how gendered one’s relaxation can be. And you also get to feel the fear that in spite of however deeply you think you hold values of gender equality, and however hard you try to live those values, that one’s working life, the effects it has on one’s body and psyche, might be subtly pushing the shape of your everyday life in the other direction. It makes me, for one, approach my downtime with a degree of ambivalence. There’s a logic in this that would state that poetry writing requires downtime, and that since I feel ambivalent towards relaxation, I must feel ambivalent when in the moment of writing poetry. And that living with another poet, a female poet with a lot of labor to perform herself, makes it difficult to want to take creative downtime in the moments when she’s doing work that maintains our shared home life. The way

I’ve put it here feels too simplistic, but there’s nonetheless a thought in here I might want to trace out—especially knowing that she’s felt some of the same difficulty in taking that downtime when it’s me who’s doing the home life maintenance. But for now I want to add another archetype to the mix, one I’m going to in a lazy, problematic shorthand call the “political avant-garde writer.” This is, of course, that individual who seeks after radical aesthetic strategies, for personal pleasure and as a mode of enacting a politically oppositional culture, but believes also that these aesthetics need the teeth of a more macro-level radical politics. That’s another image that I think can easily be complicated and deflated, but like the masculine provider image above, it’s one that’s in circulation, and one that I believe we often measure ourselves in relation to—and, often or not, feel that others are measuring us against as well. This isn’t something that needs to be done overtly very often, or done by very many people, to have a sort of disciplining effect. One’s life situation and responsibilities can change over time, one can get a little older and be more enmeshed in workaday getting by, only to abruptly notice at some or another reading that new people have appeared who, at least on the surface, are younger and sexier, with better ideas and more time to write, and whatever the degree of their political activity, have produced an image that’s cooler and more ideologically pure. It’s kind of weird to find myself saying that at age 30, I know, and I’m not going to exclude myself from this either, because I know that I can be and probably have been that cooler and more ideologically pure looking poet to someone else. But the point is that regardless of the truth value of either of these archetypal images I’ve mentioned, received knowledge places these archetypes in tension, and while negotiating our relationships to this tension and overlap is one of the things of being human, it’s nonetheless a challenge. In other words, regardless of the specificities of a person’s real life, the images of “avant-garde artist” and “traditional masculine provider” don’t really go together, and much as we’d like not to articulate ourselves and others in terms of these images, as I’ve said, I think it’s still pretty common to do so. And this makes it very difficult sometimes to reveal the very messy details of one’s life in the labor sphere to the part of one’s life that’s in the poetry sphere without fearing being categorized as a certain degree of non-entity. To take a similar example, many of us, myself included, like to think that we’re pretty accepting of the human variety we come across, but what exactly would we do with a kind of left-leaning, aesthetically radical Dana Gioia type who works in, like, finance? I can’t see the outcome being social shunning, but I’d bet that person would feel like they’d have to sequester that portion of their life from public view just to get by socially. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. I’d rather see that person’s experience be welcomed, because I’m sure they’d be aware of at least some of the contradictions they’re negotiating, and because the knowledge they’d bring to a political/cultural conversation and the input they’d in turn receive could, I think, lead to some pretty transformative learning experiences for all those involved. Feeling like one has to keep portions of one’s life at the margins seems like a poor method for fostering effective, truly rooted community, political or otherwise.

But beyond addressing our imagined friend in finance, I wonder about what else could be done to dissolve some of the self-image-policing that goes on and to limit the power of this “avant-garde poet” archetype has in us downplaying some of the vital details of how we spend our lives. I actually think that last year’s Labor Day Conference and the conversations that came out of it lent themselves to this kind of dissolution. I know that many of us who were there felt that in the wake of it we were more comfortable discussing our iffy-feeling day-to-day realities—particularly where our money comes from, and the trickiness involved in how we structure our time. And so I guess I’d like to see more of this kind of exploratory conversation, because in it there’s the possibility of pluralizing the conceptions of what being a “political avant-garde writer” looks like, in terms of how one lives but also in terms of artistic output—in form and subject matter, yes, but also in terms of process, and in sheer amount of that output. As I’ve gotten just a little bit older, I know I’ve faced the frustration of not being able to find the time and energy to write in the way that I used to when I was in my early 20s, where I’d sit down and work for hours. I think maybe it’s time for me and for anyone who’s felt the same way to let go of that frustration a bit and instead find processes and forms of creative output that mesh with our everyday existences, regardless of whether that ends up looking like what we think a poet’s process and product should look like. I mean, I think finding processes that fit one’s specific circumstances is what we’re all doing anyway, but I’d like to see that articulated not as a deviation from the ideal but as a basic fact that guides our ever-evolving work.

SEAN LABRADOR Y MANZANO

Love’s Labour’s Lost Ever critique the empire in these positions: push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, selfdestructs, 59-Chevies? After my first year of college, I was restless, impatient. I knew I wanted to document “the military,” “the cold war,” “The Spanish-American War,” “The PhilippinesAmerican War,” “WW2,” “Vietnam,” “Beirut,” and “Afghanistan.” But I didn’t know in what form or shape. I took on my stepfather’s challenge, to know REAL work. I enlisted. This path is rooted in the military base library, my day care. My parents gone for hours, returned at closing. Having exhausted children’s lit, I explored military history, anticipated the course of future wars. (So when 9/11 happened, I was not surprised.) I wanted to be a journalist, always wanted to write for the Stars and Stripes—but I tested too high and qualified for bubblehead—Nuclear Submarine Sonar Technician. But I didn’t see myself listening for anomalies hundreds of feet submerged. I went to bootcamp unfortunately in winter north of Chicago. I wanted to embody the physical and mental indoctrination experienced by so many of my fathers, uncles, and cousins, alas the snow. Imagine, marine bootcamp in Full Metal Jacket for an approximation of my experience. Before, I appreciated my family’s military service voyeuristically. War films. No one talked. My stepfather, a Vietnam Vet, and I sat quietly through bootlegged VHS tapes. I was 10 watching Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. My stepfather warned, how I will understand these movies and their context when I was older. Gallipoli had a profound influence. Accepting the futility of the infantry charge against a trench. In many dreams I ran towards bayonets and machine gun nests. Waking up wondering if I could do the same in real life. Jump on a grenade to save the many. My childhood films were “Romantic.” Then Saving Private Ryan set the standard for gruesome. Having critiqued my experience enough, I endured the Navy 8 months, leaving on a “failure to adapt.” The military psychiatrist loosely translated: I should be in college, and was eager to speed my return to the civilian world. 9/11 happened in my last year at CAL. My first conversations at the Free Speech Movement Café afterwards were about re-enlisting, but this time in the Army. I’d call the recruiter every other month. But I feared the previous “Failure to Adapt” in the

navy would be an obstacle. In 2002, I went to SFSU for the MFA. I was the only student in my workshops writing insistently about the War. Then the invasion of Iraq led me to finish the MFA at Mills College. What was I supposed to do for gainful employment? My resume has travelled the world. From the Bay Area to as far as the American University in Kurdistan. How was I to pay off student loans, or child support? Where was my Bailout? When I was 10, I collected Soldier of Fortune magazine. In one issue from the 80s, a picture of a mujahedeen child soldier cradles an Ak-47. He was stoic. My family has a history of children in War. My mother was a refugee in her own country. Other pictures--children maimed from Soviet mines. I wanted to be there. Why couldn’t I be a child soldier? At the rifle range, I was sharp within 100 yards.. So these images from my youth, and the desperation of unemployment, finally pushed me in to the Army recruiters office in Alameda. I was resigned to learn a “strategic language” (like Farsi, Urdu, Arabic) or to disable IEDs. I psyched myself to kill. For 8 months I waited for my re-entry file to be processed. For 8 months, I wrote for McSweeney’s about the anticipation becoming a Poet on the Ground. I did pushups and sit-ups. I imagined killing people, how easy it would be in the right frame of mind. Applying transference. If the Dept. of Education wanted its money back, then the Dept. of Defense must put a weapon in my hand. The eerie and most exhilarating part of reenlistment, I was expecting to sign my name to a $250,000 life insurance policy, and naming my son as beneficiary. Then karma intervened. Now, I am beginning my 2nd year teaching English, Poetry, World History, American History, Government, Economics. (And echoing Jackie Frost, last year I taught my high school students “The Libidinal Economy in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.” Likewise “Marxist Buddhism in The Matrix Trilogy.” And I teach Gardening. At a Buddhist School. I am trying to understand the meaning of this karmic intervention. What I must do in return for such Providence. So this book/this conversation, Conversations at the Wartime Café: a Decade of War 2001-2011 was produced. So I host a monthly MFA Mixer in the City. So I get people to write on subjects as Suicide to Stockholm Syndrome. So I teach my students how history is a record of violence. How Compassion is an end to history.

WENDY TREVINO has worked as a Summer Recreation Leader with at-risk and special needs youth; a LSAT Instructor and Site Director for The Princeton Review; a House- and Pet-sitter in Iowa City; a Teaching Assistant and Creative Writing Instructor at UC Davis; a Guest Services Attendant and Development Intern at the California Academy of Sciences; and a Writing Consultant for SFJAZZ. She currently works as a Grant Writer at the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco.

The “We” of a Position I started writing this at 6 this morning, after 5 hours of sleep, after a night of doing nothing, after a couple of hours talking on the phone with Lauren Levin, after a day of seeing a very disorganized friend off to Kuwait, where he will teach for two years in order to have a free place to live and pay off a fraction of his grad student loans. I started to make a list of things that have happened, beginning with “global financial crisis” & ending with me standing here in Oakland, reading something about labor, writing, and fighting. Without even trying to include everything, I ran out of steam by the time I got to the third instance of “looking for work” and the first word of students occupying UC buildings. I started to respond to a piece that Stephanie Young so generously sent me, a piece that included a piece of something I’d said about working with people that are hard to work with, people you might not like all that much or at all, people you might not know. How it is still possible, how it is already how most people work every day in jobs they wish they didn’t need. How it reminds me of my family, a very large group of people that includes people who just appeared in a field to work one day. How it isn’t a family in the traditional sense. How it includes a kid named Taco, an orphan who would ask for tacos from other field hands, a kid the barrio my mother grew up in took in. How it includes a woman my mother met working in the fields and her son and another woman who took care of me as a child. How it includes the neighbors my mother lived with when she ran away from home at thirteen as much as a [woman] my mother recently met on a flight to New York. How the support these people have given each other is financial as well as emotional. How in continuing to support each other XXXX. I started to think about my father picking cotton as a kid and the hierarchy of the fields. How poor whites and Mexican-Americans got first pick. How undocumented workers went in second, and African-Americans picked last. How my father said getting first-pick made him feel special until one very hot day, in Lubbock, during a break, his family went looking for water. How none of the white people in town would give them water. How on their way back to the fields, a truck of AfricanAmerican farm hands offered them some. How they didn’t even have to ask. How my father says we’re all living like that—not even knowing who our friends are. How my father passes for white until he speaks. How a farmer and his wife, in College Station,

told my grandmother they would adopt my father and raise him as white when he was four years old. How the men who hired my father at XXXX in the seventies laughed and said they were meeting the requirements of affirmative action with a man who “talks like a Mexican but looks white.” How, when my father tells this story, he doesn’t even seem mad. I started to worry that what I was writing was dealing too much with identity without dealing with it. I remembered why I hesitate to talk about these things. Because what I am trying to say is that we should really think about who our friends are. What I am trying to describe is what is described in Tiqqun’s Call as “the ‘we’ of a position.” A “we” that includes people we do and don’t like. A “we” that includes people we haven’t met yet and people we will never meet. A “we” that sees the hierarchy of the fields and calls bullshit without being dismissive of its bullshit effects. A “we” that is aware of other fields. I started to worry that I would cry reading this in front of a room full of people I respect and am just getting to know. Mostly because I read what I’d written to Dereck, my partner, and he said some of you might cry. I started to consider having Dereck read this and worried about the effect a white man, an adjunct professor from a working class family might have on the text. A white man whose grandfather grew up on a Choctaw reservation, moved to Arkansas and bought land because it had once been illegal for Native Americans to cross the Oklahoma border into certain parts of Arkansas. I wondered which option I would worry about, then do anyway. I wanted to talk about how I started slowly to see this “we.” How I had been looking for work, then working six days a week and all that time reading. Reading Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings, thinking about envy, asking, “To what extent do homosocial group formations rely on antagonism?” Reading Ian Baucom’s Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery and the Philosophy of History, thinking about the British slave ship Zong. Reading the first chapter of Marx’s Capital for the nth time, listening to David Harvey’s podcasts. Reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, engaging in an argument about Social Networking Sites, weak intimacy and collective action in because poetry is not enough, a “secret” group on facebook consisting of me, Brian Ang, Tiffany Denman, Joseph Atkins, Jeanine Webb, May Ought, Erin Steinke and Dereck Clemons. In a cubicle, an unpaid intern, arguing on facebook, with people I do and people I do not often see, arguing “I’m not sure the weak intimacy that characterizes even strictly fb relationships is so different than that of the intimacy characterizing most work relationships or relationships between peers, and while it is true that relationships are implicit in collectivizing and while propinquity remains a determining factor in whether one participates in a particular collective action, I think it’s a mistake to think people have to be on intimate terms with each other prior to collectivizing / in order to collectivize.”

STEPHANIE YOUNG lives and works in Oakland. She is a full-time administrator of graduate programs and part-time teacher of poetry at Mills College. Previously she could be found executive assisting, sales analyzing, shelving mass market paperbacks, cleaning houses, and selling cookies. Her most recent book, with Juliana Spahr, is A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a-machine-gun Feminism.

Something about Sheila de Bretteville crying about money in Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary film Women Art Revolution. Something about Sheila de Bretteville crying about the feminist art movement’s focus on women’s exclusion from systems of power, rather than identification with others who also lacked power, also lacked money. Something about the moment when several of us started crying about student loan debt at the Department retreat. Something about how I started crying in therapy about everything I seem as yet unable to give up, and couldn’t stop. Something about willingly giving up the individual body’s privilege: as white, of a moderate income which both allows and requires that I travel most days with moderate docility the paths laid out by ATM machines, highways, places of business and institutions. Something about willingly placing that individual body in the way of arrest or even direct injury by the state, as an experiment in identification with bodies marked otherwise, bodies vulnerable to regular interruption, harassment, arrest, detainment, imprisonment and murder by the state. Something about heroic regard for this particular experiment in identification. Something about militancy in the U.S. right now as an art project, acts of imagination in the wake of state repression, in the wake of COINTELPRO, something about imagining a future of being on the street together, if not yet on the street together as in Chile, if still outnumbered by riot cops and cameras. Something about the swagger of one art project’s dismissal of other art projects. Something about splitting off material from emotional care. Something about something Wendy Trevino said at the Durruti Free Skool meetup a few weeks ago, something about being able to work with and care for people who one dislikes, or feels irritated by, or ambivalence towards. I remembered this as being able to work with and care for people who one hates. Probably because I have been obsessed with that Tiqqun book The Terrible Community: “…a post-

authoritarian power apparatus. It apparently does not have a bureaucracy nor some constraining form. But to produce so much verticality within the informal, it must resort to archaic configurations, roles handed down that still survive in crowded caves of the collective unconscious. Thus the family is not the organizational model but its direct antecedent in the production of informal constraint and the indissoluble living bond of hatred and love.” The euro family euro critique. Something about the family Wendy talked about, the family that extends, on a plain, without so much verticality. Working with and caring for others who one dislikes, or feels irritated by, or ambivalence towards. I need to say that the family Wendy talked about is a specific example located near or on or beyond the U.S. Mexico border. Something about Etel Adnan’s To Be In A time of War. To be the panic of constant information. To be hurt, distrustful, competitive, envious, angry. To be singing in the car, my heart’s a stereo, it beats for you, so listen close To be THEN YOU ARE STILL THE ENEMY. To be unsure of everything, unable to ask for or take it back with force. Are the wetlands everything? To wish the wetlands back as difficult as anything else, necessarily my own death and yours. To somewhat falsely oppose decomposition and insurrection. To be post-camp messianism on the one hand, labeling everything else reform or collaboration with existing structures on the other, just, dangling there. Unsure of everything. To be intimidated by the debt collector. To seek assistance from a non-profit. To be ashamed of one’s self. To be full of desire and fear. To be making art projects. To be making art projects together. “Every miscarriage is a work accident.” To be Claire Fontaine, to be dismissive of Claire Fontaine, to find Claire Fontaine somehow useful. To pivot and grind. To frottage with Claire Fontaine. “The return of the repressed threatens all my projects of work, research, politics. Does it threaten them or is it the truly political thing in myself, to which I should give relief and room? (…) The silence failed this part of myself that desired to make

politics, but it affirmed something new. There has been a change, I have started to speak out, but during these days I have felt that the affirmative part of myself was occupying all the space again. I convinced myself of the fact that the mute woman is the most fertile objection to our politics. The non-political digs tunnels that we mustn’t fill with earth.”

The materials presented here were originally presented at A Gathering on Labor, Art & Politics at the Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library in Oakland, September 4, 2011

Poetic Labor Project http://labday2010.blogspot.com/ labday2010@gmail.com

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