Poetic Labor Project

April 2012

CARLOS SOTO-ROMÁN

JEN BENKA CHRIS SULLIVAN NATHAN JOHNSON

http://labday2010.blogspot.com/

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

CARLOS SOTO-ROMÁN is a Chilean pharmacist (químico farmacéutico), and poet. He holds a Master of Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania. He has published in Chile La Marcha de los Quiltros (1999), Haikú Minero (2007), and Cambio y Fuera (2009); and in the States Philadelphia’s Notebooks (Otoliths, 2011). His chapbook Con/Science is forthcoming by Corollary Press this summer. He is also a translator and the curator of the cooperative anthology of US poetry Elective Affinities. He lives in Philadelphia, PA.

uno I  find  it  extremely  difficult  to  talk  about  work.  I’ve  always  seen  work  as   something  negative;  or  rather  I’ve  always  made  a  clear  distinction  between  work   that  is  supposed  to  pay  the  rent,  the  so  called  “productive”  work,  and  creative   work,  which  is  the  one  that  feeds  my  soul.  For  some  reason  I  can’t  explain,  I  just   can’t  mix  them.  The  work  that  pays  the  rent  will  always  be  a  sort  of  imposition,  a   biEer  responsibility,  a  divine  punishment,  and  a  burden.  On  the  other  hand,   creative  work  is  always  idyllic,  challenging,  rewarding,  satisfying,  full  of  joy.   Perhaps  as  a  way  to  protect  that  dream  bubble,  I’ve  never  wanted  to  put  those   two  worlds  together,  never  wanted  to  mix  pleasure  with  business.  Maybe  my   Judeo-­‐‑Christian  background  has  something  to  do  with  it.  Maybe  not.  The  fact  is   that  those  two  worlds  coexist  in  me  in  parallel  and  in  confrontation.  There  is  no   conversation  between  them.  No  truce  either. dos In  order  to  talk  about  work,  I  must  first  define  work.  I  look  for  the  marrow  and   this  is  what  I  find.  The  Spanish  words  trabajo  (work,  job)  and  trabajar  (to  work),   both  from  the  Old  Castilian  word  trebejare  (effort,  strive,  to  make  an  effort)  are   not  derived  from  the  Latin  labor.  They  come  from  a  torture  mechanism  used  in   ancient  Rome  whose  name  was  tripalium  (tres  palos,  three  stakes),  and  from  the   verb  tripaliare  (to  torture  or  self-­‐‑torture).  This  partnership  between  work  and   suffering  (or  between  work  and  pain)  is  also  reflected  in  the  English  word  labor,   which  also  refers  to  the  efforts  of  childbirth,  experience  that  is  recognized  as  one   of  the  most  painful  ordeals  that  can  be  handled  by  someone.  It  shouldn’t  surprise   us  then  that  the  antonyms  of  a  word  that  carries  such  harmful  connotations  are   indeed  auspicious  words:  play,  relax,  laze,  have  fun,  take  it  easy,  loaf,  etc.  words  

that  are  commonly  associated  to  the  second  world,  the  creative  work;  the  one   that  I  like  to  do. tres I  haven’t  had  many  jobs.  Some  of  them  were  quite  unusual.  I  have  worked  as  a   metalworker,  as  a  seasonal  worker,  picking  up  tomatoes  and  corn,  as  a  personnel   officer  in  a  juice  and  jam  factory,  as  a  waiter,  as  a  Christmas  card  salesman.  I  have   also  been  a  Guinea  Pig  for  lab  experimentation  and  have  worked  for  two   international  pharmaceutical  companies.  As  a  teenager  my  parents  made  sure  I   didn’t  start  to  work  soon.  It  was  like  smoking.  The  later  you  start  the  beEer  –  I   was  told  –  You’re  going  to  have  the  whole  life  to  do  it.  I  quit  smoking  three  years   ago.  It’s  been  7  months  since  my  last  paid  job. cuatro But  I  do  work.  Domestic  work  mostly.  I  cook,  I  take  care  of  my  kids,  I  do  the   cleaning  but  nobody  pays  me  for  that.  So  I  don’t  work.  At  least  my  mother-­‐‑in-­‐‑law   thinks  so.  According  to  her  I  was  working  when  I  had  an  office,  when  I  was   aEending  business  dinners  at  fancy  restaurants,  when  I  was  traveling  to  different   countries  in  executive  class.  But  now  I  work.  Really.  I  do  work.  I  write  poems,  I   do  translations,  and  I’m  doing  some  visual  stuff  now.  I  put  people  in  touch.  I   have  a  blog  that  is  a  kind  of  anthology  where  I  invite  others  to  show  their  work,  a   place  where  they  can  give  their  opinion,  say  what  they  think  about  their  craft,   about  their  work.  Jane  Sprague  told  me  once  “that  thing  you  do  is  activism”.  I  try   not  to  think  about  it.  I  just  do  what  I  do  because  I  like  it.  And  because  I  need  to. cinco I  don’t  hate  money  (and  certainly  don’t  love  it  either)  but  unfortunately  it’s  a   necessary  tool.  When  I  have  enough  it'ʹs  OK.  And  when  I  don’t,  well,  then  I  have   to  figure  out  things  in  some  other  way.  When  I  do  have  money  I  can  buy  good   food,  take  my  kids  to  the  movies,  buy  books  (which  is  something  that  I  really   love),  drink  a  couple  of  pints  in  a  bar  with  friends  (diEo),  and  when  I  don’t  have   any  money,  then  I  just  can’t.  But  the  thing  is,  I  don’t  feel  a  special  connection  with  

money;  I  don’t  feel  a  particular  devotion  to  it,  nor  to  work  as  a  mechanism  of   monetary  enrichment,  and  even  less  as  a  manifestation  of  social  success  or  status   (showing  off  material  goods  obtained  because  of  it). seis I  was  a  pharmacist  once.  I  had  to  dispense  prescriptions,  take  care  of  dangerous   drugs,  answer  questions,  do  inventories,  budgets,  and  deal  with  the  (im)patients   (here  they  are  just  called  customers),  the  technicians  and  the  worst  boss  I’ve  ever   had;  a  jerk  who  constantly  pushed  me  to  sell  more  and  more,  no  maEer  what.  I   hated  that  job.  I  hated  the  ambiance.  Working  with  disease  (the  disease  of  others)   can  be  something  noble  but  it’s  also  the  opposite.  It’s  vile,  dirty,  tedious,  and   distressing.  It’s  hard.  When  people  in  Santiago  are  ill  for  example,  they  believe   the  solution  to  their  problems  lies  in  a  pill.  In  Buenos  Aires  there  are  cafés  on   every  corner.  It’s  like  Paris.  People  sit  in  the  tables  outside  and  talk  sipping   espressos  and  munching  croissants.  In  Santiago  de  Chile,  we  have  pharmacies.   Actually  we  have  more  pharmacies  than  sick  people.  And  when  the  sick   outnumber  pharmacies,  then  we  open  more  pharmacies. siete The  Japanese,  another  society  alienated  by  work,  have  described  a  massive  health   epidemic  called  Karoshi.    Karoshi  is  death  caused  by  too  much  work.  It’s  formed   by  the  words  ka  =  excess,  ro  =  labor  and  shi=  death.  In  1969,  an  employee  who   worked  in  the  packaging  section  of  a  newspaper  of  wide  circulation,  died  at  the   age  of  29  after  a  heart  aEack.  He  had  worked  more  than  a  month  without  resting   a  single  day.  The  case  was  immediately  called  “occupational  sudden  death”.  That   was  just  the  beginning. ocho Throughout  history  the  phrase  “work  dignifies  man”  has  been  aEributed  to   several  celebrities.  Some  people  say  it  belong  to  Marx,  some  others  to  Benjamin   Franklin.  Others,  however,  state  that  Saint  Francis  of  Assisi,  the  advocate  of  the   poor,  was  the  first  to  publicly  say  it.  I  honestly  don’t  care.  What  I  do  care  is  the  

contradiction  the  phrase  carries.  We  all  know  that  our  time  is  limited.  Why  then,   do  we  spend  time  doing  something  that  we  don’t  like?  Is  it  possible  to  find  any   dignity  on  that?  Can  you  imagine  somebody  telling  a  slave  that  his  slavery   dignifies  him?  Well,  you  know,  I  have  some  issues  with  work.  But  I  have  to  come   back  to  my  distinction  here.  One  thing  is  the  “productive”  work  and  another  is   the  creative  one.  Borges  said  that  the  work  of  a  poet,  unlike  others,  is  constant   because  poetry  knows  no  rest,  because  poetry  is  in  everything.  I  know  many   poets  who  work  almost  24  hours  a  day.  Half  of  that  time,  just  to  survive,  and   when  they  finish  they  go  home  to  start  their  real  job. nueve But  working  today  is  not  easy.  I’m  reading  an  article  published  by  Fundación  Sol,   a  non-­‐‑profit  organization  that  conducts  research  on  the  labor  market  in  Chile.   According  to  the  article  there  is  a  general  lack  of  job  security,  which  causes   vulnerability.  The  consequences  of  this  insecurity  are  considerable.  The   anticipation  of  job  loss  causes  anxiety  and  some  argue  that  also  affects  character   in  a  negative  way.  Insecurity  also  affects  the  family  budget  and  threatens  the   organization  of  vital  time  generating  a  sense  of  suspense  and  exacerbating   competition  for  the  remaining  opportunities  for  secure  jobs.  There  is  also  the  gap   between  wages.  While  businessmen  and  owners'ʹ  earnings  seem  to  keep  rising,   the  workers  earnings  remain  stagnant,  or  even  less  over  time,  requiring   additional  hours  per  week  just  to  keep  up.

diez In  a  different  life  I  joined  a  group  of  friends  and  started  a  literary  website  they   named  Lanzallamas,  honoring  the  Argentinean  writer  Roberto  Arlt.  One  of  the   first  things  we  published  was  a  dossier  about  work  and  leisure.  I  wrote  a  column   titled  “Coffee  Break  or  the  Queens  of  the  hive”.  The  column  began  with  a  phrase   that  I  had  read  in  an  anarchist  tabloid:  “If  work  were  so  pleasant,  the  rich  would   keep  it  for  themselves…  try  to  strive  as  liEle  as  possible,  enjoy  absenteeism  from   work,  practice  sabotage,  put  a  high  price  to  your  labor’s  strength…”  

sensation One  day  I  saw  a  work  by  British  artist  Damien  Hirst.  It  was  a  room-­‐‑sized   installation  called  Pharmacy.  The  installation  represented  a  real  pharmacy.  I   never  thought  I  could  make  art  with  something  that  to  me  belonged  to  another   world.  I  began  to  incorporate  more  chemistry  into  my  poems.  To  include   molecules,  reactions,  atoms,  and  elements...  the  periodic  table,  pictures  of  cells,   cycle’s  diagrams,  flowcharts,  spectroscopy,  electrophoresis.  Somehow  I  had   found  a  way  to  establish  a  dialogue  between  those  worlds.  I  started  to  write   poems  about  medical  conundrums,  I  reached  a  point  where  I  needed  more   arguments,  more  philosophy.  I  left  my  country  and  came  here.  I  signed  up  for  a   master’s  degree  in  bioethics.  I  completed  it.  Now  I’m  trying  to  finish  my  book,  a   strange  fable  about  two  conjoined  twins  who  were  separated  against  parents’   wishes.  I’m  also  geEing  ready  to  return  to  my  country.  A  beaten  country  that  is   just  now  beginning  to  wake  up.  After  a  year  of  students  demonstrations,  after  an   earthquake  and  many  political  scandals,  after  so  many  deaths  in  prisons,  in   demonstrations,  after  being  spit  on  the  face  by  a  moral  dictatorship  that  the   oligarchy  wants  to  impose,  after  being  able  to  watch  all  this  and  to  meditate   about  it  from  a  distance,  for  the  very  first  time  in  my  life  I  have  absolute  certainty   that  I  have  a  job  to  do.   Maybe  it  was  a  coincidence  and  maybe  not.  But  the  day  I  saw  the  installation  of   the  pharmacy…  that  day  I  went  to  work  with  a  smile.  That  was  also  my  last  day   at  the  pharmacy.

JEN BENKA is the author of Pinko (Hanging Loose) and A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers (Soft Skull). Her poems and essays have appeared in publications and collections including Crossing State Lines (Farrar Straus and Giroux), EOAGH, make/shift magazine, How(2), and a forthcoming publication celebrating the work of Etel Adnan. She lives in San Francisco where she works at 826 National. Before that, she was in New York where she worked at Poets & Writers. Before that she was in Milwaukee, where she was born, and where her grandma proudly worked at the nearby Ladish factory until she retired.

My  grandma  Julia  Benka  was  barely  five  feet  tall,  but  she  could  grab  any  man  a   foot  taller  by  the  shirt  collar  and  dunk  his  boozey  head  under  a  water  fountain  to   sober  him  up.  According  to  my  dad,  she  had  to  do  that  every  now  and  again  to   the  men  who  worked  on  her  line,  so  they  wouldn’t  lose  their  jobs.  That  would   explain  her  sinewy  arms.  No  one’s  grandma  had  biceps  like  mine  did.  She  could   talk  tough,  too:  “You  want  a  knuckle  sandwich?” Nie.  No.  Dziekuje.  Thank  you. In  1963,  at  the  age  of  60,  the  poet  Lorine  Niedecker  married  a  one-­‐‑handed  painter   from  Milwaukee,  WI  named  Al  Millen.  She  moved  from  her  cabin  on  Black   Hawk  Island  near  Lake  Koshkonong,  62  miles  east  to  the  city  and  into  his  house. Grandfather    advised  me:                Learn  a  trade I  learned    to  sit  at  desk                and  condense No  layoff    from  this                condensery  (LN)

Millen  worked  at  Ladish,  a  metal  forging  factory.  My  grandma,  a  proud  member   of  Machinists  Local  1862,  worked  there,  too,  in  the  pipe  fiEing  division,  heading   up  quality  control. a  set  of  procedures analysis inspection  of  design the  adherence  to  a  defined  set  of  requirements Ladish  is  located  in  Cudahy,  a  population  18,000  town  on  the  south  side  of   Milwaukee  wedged  between  Lake  Michigan  and  General  Mitchell  airport.   Cudahy  was  named  for  Patrick  Cudahy,  an  Irish  immigrant,  who  bought  700   acres  of  land  in  the  1890s  and  built  a  meat  packing  plant,  now  a  part  Smithfield   foods.  The  town  was  seEled  mostly  by  Polish  immigrants  who  worked  at  the   packing  plant,  and  a  few  years  later  at  the  forging  factory  opened  by  Herman   Ladish,  who  had  bought  a  steam  hammer  and  set  out  to  become  "ʺAxle  Forger  to   the  Industry!”  (Exclamation  mark,  mine.) The  racial  and  ethnic  makeup  of  Cudahy’s  residents  hasn’t  changed  much  over   the  past  several  decades.  It  is  a  mostly  white  and  still  mostly  Polish  community.   The  average  household  income  is  $50,000.  Houses  cost  about  $125,000.  Many  are   currently  in  foreclosure. Tell  em  to  take  my  bare  walls  down/  my  cement  abutments/  their  parties  thereof/ and  clause  of  claws  (LN) During  World  War  II,  Ladish  produced  propeller  parts  for  bombers  and  other   fighter  planes.  The  aircraft  and  military  markets  became  more  and  more  of  a   focus,  and  in  1997,    the  company  sold  its  pipe  fiEing  division  to  concentrate  in   those  areas.  At  the  time,  the  pipe  fiEing  division’s  sales  were  estimated  at   between  $41  million  and  $51  million.   After  Niedecker  passed  away  in  1970,  Millen  found  a  note  in  her  box  of  papers   that  read,  “Al,  burn  these.”  So  he  did.

In  1977,  after  my  grandma  passed  away  my  grandpa  gave  me  her  rosary  and   bowling  ball.  “She  wanted  you  to  have  these,”  he  said.  I  was  nine  and  the  ball   was  about  as  heavy  as  I  was,  but  with  its  marbleized  sky  blue  design,  it  looked   like  a  planet. Was  enough  to  carry  me  thru.  (LN)

CHRIS SULLIVAN once found two never-worn Beneficial Suggestion Award pins from the SF Naval Shipyard during a neighborhood cleanup campaign; he gave one away and lost the other to fire. He thinks about the one he gave away and wonders in what sort of state it is kept. He fears it is at the bottom of a jar with pens and marbles in it. He should have liked to have been awarded a Beneficial Suggestion Award, if not from the Shipyard, by now. He thinks he merits many of them. Once he built a 15 gallon chemical mixer from a rolling mop bucket, added a pump with a little plumbing, and this solved a problem at the workplace. Michael Schindler chose to memorialize the RA-4 chemical mixer at the demise of the workplace during the dot com bubble, when companies like Petopia were moving into the neighborhood. Mr Schindler said it took what was a nasty and all too potentially messy chore and turned it into an easy routine set of tasks that were by comparison, a joy to perform. Chris did that, yes he did.

diagnosis it  happens  you  can  be  here  decades  (much)  more  f/u than  you  know,  and  for  this  you  may  be  called  an  original  -­‐‑ I  feel  shy  about  my  writing I'ʹve  been  working  a  bit  more  than  I  ought and  it  impedes  almost  all  sit  at  the  table thought  posse,  but  sometimes  when I'ʹm  painting  (this  ceiling  had  years of  nicotine  grime  such  that  it  took two  coats  of  oil  based  primer  before white  paint  would  not  turn  yellow, but  the  walls  are  Bermuda  Sand  and that  blends  right  in)  I  think  of  phrases "ʺlike  the  factory  scene  in  the  feel  good movie  of  the  year"ʺ  Ry  Cooder  is  singing work  together  $25.00  an  hour seems  to  stimulate  me  unnaturally but  today  I  loved  the  backer  rod  caulk  seam I  put  on  the  stair  landing,  I  rooted  for  it  to  last Jason'ʹs  taking  pabst  blue  ribbons  for  lunch and  liking  this  job  why  don'ʹt  they  put

roach  clips  on  paint  can  boEle  openers anyway yes  I  admit  a  working  class  scowl at  certain  things  happens  to  me so  it  is  I'ʹve  grown  to  walk on  the  other  side  of  the  street it  must  be  known  as  mine  by  now I  have  a  companion,  and  the  fence is  nicer  than  you I  would  remind  myself  the  three  things I  could  honestly  say  to  an  encounter "ʺmorning"ʺ "ʺafternoon"ʺ "ʺevening"ʺ even-­‐‑ing,  I'ʹd  say,  if  necessary Over  time  these  condensed to  a  quick  purse  of  my  lips new  peripheries  of  aversion to  did  I  burn  my  own  apartment  down? asked  the  owner  of  two  big  white  houses  lady with  a  stack  of  a/c  condensers  easter  island might  envy,  for  I  had  left  some  lint on  the  screen  of  her  dryer and  that  left  some  -­‐‑  thing  on  me a  hitch,  for  she  was  referring  to  leEers of  mine,  and  a  big  blob  of  300  vinyl  records I'ʹd  collected,  to  a  lot  of  things,  no  I  did  not burn  my  3444  16th  sf  ca  94110  flat  down  but as  you  mention  it,  on  my  39th  birthday a  shrug  was  born obdurate  as  the  day  is  long bet  the  house take  it  to  the  bank nor  whistling  dixie say  that  again ain'ʹt  kidding

got  that  right I  do  enjoy  the  sight  of  fancy  decals  hvac  service  van blocking  that  driveway,  sure  they'ʹll  move  it  ,  truck  charge plus  $95  an  hour  and  sharp  overall  suits  they  say a  lot  of  things  and  are  just  sooooo  nice  she  reports  /  admires imagine  that  and  I  root  for  their  affable  laconic  manners I'ʹll  get  you  an  ace  for  $65  an  hour no  sales  of  service  you  do  not  need What-­‐‑ever we  liked  to  call  work  berkeley  farms  and  some  nights  it  was  like  the  factory  scene   in  the  feel  good  movie  of  the  year  I'ʹd  multiply  my  overtime  rate  too  often  but  one   friday  evening  some  tiny  dabs  of  a  powder  I  took  and  as  thursday  was  payday  4   pickers  did  not  show  it  did  not  maEer  for  12  hours  I  pulled  my  big  blue  pallet   jack  through  the  u  shaped  warehouse  maze  like  a  train  seEing  speed  records  I   remember  the  foreman  after  studying  the  tallies  looked  at  me  disbelievingly,   would  you  believe  one  of  my  finest  moments,  I  think  it  was  methamphetamine,   from  a  nice  lab,  1989. I  always  felt  fine,  making  $12  dollar  an  hour,  in  San  Francisco  but  I  forgot  the   whole  idea  was  to  remain  a  resident  after  a  while  you  want  to  live  with  fields  and   clearings  and  meadows  and  mountains  under  the  tree  you  love  I  did  not  urinate   in  a  porcelain  bowl  for  a  year  I  took  strolls  accompanied  by  an  orange  cat  named   Rivers  the  desultory  country  mouser  god  that  sound  of  dripping  into  the  earth   how  I  loved  and  felt  right  by  it  was  at  the  end  of  the  day,  I  wanted  to  tell   someone  about  these  ceilings  and  the  gap  between  molding  and  chimney  next  to   the  stove,  and  what  I  pulled  out  of  it  and  stuck  to  the  ventilating  hood,  oh  my   god  a  worst  thing  you  ever  saw  it  made  me  laugh  but  you  did  not  have  to  be   there  I  do  not  know  about  doing  this  one  more  month $25  an  hour  though this  is  in  and  around  area  code  504

NATHAN JOHNSON was active as a drummer in Seattle from 1987 to 1995 (i.e. the heyday of ‘grunge’), after which he spent two years in New York working as a letterpress printer. Relocating in 1997 to Budapest, Hungary, where he still resides, Johnson pays the bills by working as a publications editor, but moonlights as a rock guitarist and freelance writer. He has produced a volume of ‘found’ poetry about drumming titled Rome Wasn’t Burned in a Day (unpublished), and collaborated with poet Steven Farmer for an ‘Others Letters’ exchange published in 2011 on Thom Donovan’s blog, Wild Horses of Fire.

After  ruling  out  at  a  preEy  early  age  the  possibility  of  playing  Major  League   Baseball,  I  set  my  sites  on  being  a  professional  musician.  I  played  piano  for  a  few   years  before  finding  myself  much  more  at  ease  behind  a  set  of  drums.  By  the  time   I  was  midway  into  my  college  education,  music―assisted  by  an  increasingly   ‘bad  aEitude’―  was  winning  the  baEle  for  my  aEention,  and  I  didn’t  return  to   finish  a  degree,  but  bounced  around  instead  between  SeaEle  and  Minneapolis-­‐‑St.   Paul  in  search  of  a  band  to  play  with.  It  was  during  these  lean  years  that  I  was   forced  to  find  work  to  sustain  myself,  and  I  wasn’t  very  good  at  it.  I  was  always   broke,  but  I  had  good  friends―and  a  killer  LP  collection. Things  improved  in  the  late  ‘80s  when  I  seEled  in  SeaEle  and  was  preEy  active   musically.  I  still  had  to  work  a  day  job,  but  was  much  beEer  at  holding  one  down.   I  worked  mostly  in  the  food  service  industry:  barista,  dishwasher,  pizza  slice   dude,  prep  cook.  The  band  Flop,  of  which  I  was  a  member,  came  together  in  1990   and  had  a  preEy  good  five-­‐‑year  run,  and  from  ’93  to  ’95  I  was,  for  the  first  (and   only)  time,  making  a  living  solely  from  being  a  musician. Everyone  in  Flop  liked  to  read,  and  I  have  fond  memories  of  being  on  tour  and   parking  the  van  in  a  strange  town  and  trying  to  find  the  nearest  used  bookstore.  I   read  mostly  novels  at  the  time,  but  did  have  a  fondness  for  poetry,  and  I  should   mention  how  this  came  about.  After  I  dropped  out  of  school  and  was  living  in  St.   Paul,  I  shared  a  house  with  a  young  photographer  by  way  of  Detroit  named  Peter   MiEenthal  (Robert  MiEenthal’s  brother,  by  strange  quirk  of  fate),  whom  I  didn’t   really  get  to  know  until  just  a  few  weeks  before  he  moved  out.  I  think  I  got  on   Peter’s  nerves  a  liEle  bit,  but  he  liked  (or  pitied)  me  enough  to  give  me  a  really   early  edition  of  Charles  Bukowski’s  Burning  in  Water,  Drowning  in  Flame.

So  there,  I’ve  said  it:  Charles  Bukowski  got  me  into  poetry.  What  was  it  that   made  me  respond  with  such  enthusiasm?  I  know  now,  having  thought  long  and   hard  about  this,  that  Bukowski  helped  me  to  come  to  terms  with  what  I  believed   at  the  time  were  my  deep  personal  failures.  His  writings  made  me  believe  that  I   could  blossom  late  in  life,  and  that  other  ‘failures’  were  just  people  who  hadn’t   happened  yet. In  1993  Flop  was  negotiating  with  Sony  Records.  Up  to  this  point,  I  had  spent   many  hours  at  home  drinking  beer  and  writing  hundreds  and  hundreds  of  really   bad  poems  on  a  manual  typewriter.  Bukowski  was  turning  into  a  preEy  self-­‐‑ destructive  muse,  so  I  started  reading  some  other  people.  I  had  just  started   reading    William  Carlos  Williams  when  I  got  hired  to  wash  dishes  and  prep  food   at  SeaEle’s  Beeliner  Diner.  The  kitchen  manager  there  was  a  really  neat  guy   named  Steve  Farmer.  We  talked  about  baseball  and  poetry  during  breaks,  and   one  day  Steve  brought  me  a  handful  of  chapbooks:  his  own  (Tone  Ward,  Coracle),   Michael  Anderson’s  Vrille  and  spectacular  Prate  City,  some  Kit  Robinson,  some   other  stuff.  These  books  opened  my  mind  to  a  lot  of  fresh,  exciting  possibilities. I  decided  I’d  had  enough  of  rock’n’roll  in  ’95  and  moved  to  New  York,   determined  to  do  anything  but  music.  I  apprenticed  at  the  ManhaEan  Center  for   Book  Arts  and  learned  leEerpress  printing.  Steve  had  a  short  manuscript  which  I   developed  into  a  chapbook  (Standing  Water),  and  I  met  lots  of  poets  while  I  was   there  (Rob  FiEerman,  Kim  Rosenfield,  Tim  Davis,  Bill  Luoma,  Judith  Goldman).   It  was  a  good  time.  I  was  doing  a  lot  of  writing  as  well,  when  a  cousin  invited  me   out  of  the  blue  to  come  and  visit  Budapest.  I  said:  ‘Why  not?’   I  traveled  to  Hungary  in  1997,  just  for  a  summer  visit.  Right  before  I  was  due  to   fly  back  to  New  York,  I  was  offered  a  job―despite  having  zero  qualifications―to   teach  English  at  a  bilingual  kindergarten.  My  accepting  the  offer  led  to  my   staying  in  Budapest  longer  and  longer,  geEing  a  bit  of  work  here,  a  bit  there.   Nearly  all  the  work  I  was  able  to  get  was  related  to  a  high  demand  at  the  time  for   English  writing  and  editing  skills.  It  was  a  lucky  situation  for  me,  as  I  was  able  to   acquire  work  experience  without  the  sort  of  formal  training  that  would  be   required  in  normal  market  conditions.

It’s  now  15  years  later.  I’m  still  in  Budapest  and  working  in  publishing.  I’m   married  to  a  Hungarian  woman,  and  we  have  a  young  son.  Against  long  odds,  I   have  achieved  something  close  to  stability,  and  am  happy  about  that. *** Thus  there  are  two  dominant  periods  marking  my  adult  life.  In  the  first,  I   abandoned  formal  education  and  a  proper  career  path  to  pursue  music,  but   during  my  musician  years  maintained  an  active  interest  in  literature  and  writing.   In  the  second,  having  moved  away  from  a  musical  career  while  taking  up   residence  in  a  foreign  country,  I  was  able  to  parlay  my  regular  engagement  with   writing  and  literature  into  steady  employment.  But  it’s  only  in  the  past  five  or  six   years  that  I  have  begun  to  develop  anything  like  a  deeper  social  understanding   of  the  world,  and  this  has  come  about  mostly  through  reading  more  socially   engaged  writing. So,  what  have  my  experiences  taught  me? I’ve  never  been  career-­‐‑minded,  so  a  job  for  me  is  really  a  means  to  an  end.  It’s  not   something  I  mind  doing,  but  I  always  look  forward  to  indulging  the  ‘life  of  the   mind’  when  I  have  spare  time.  It’s  a  wonderful  thing  when  a  person  is  able  to  get   paid  to  do  what  they  love  doing,  but  this  isn’t  the  case  for  most  people.  A  society   of  people  that  have  time  to  relax,  reflect,  converse  and  create  is,  to  my  mind,  a  far   healthier  society  than  one  in  which  members  engage  reflexively  in  exhausting,   poorly  remunerated  competition  with  each  other. Many  people  are  obviously  struggling  in  the  United  States.  On  my  side  of  the   pond,  working  Greeks  are  reeling  from  Troika-­‐‑imposed  austerity,  and  Portugal  is   being  administered  a  stiff  dose  of  neoliberal  medicine  as  we  speak.  I  have   Hungarian  friends  with  two  or  three  university  degrees  that  can’t  find  work,  or   are  being  paid  a  ridiculously  low  wage.  Clearly,  the  mantra  of  ‘personal   responsibility’  is  entirely  inadequate  for  explaining―let  alone   justifying―widespread  economic  misery  in  many  parts  of  the  world.  More  and   more  people  need  to  join  in  peaceful  solidarity  across  all  conceivable  social  lines,   and  that  includes  national  boundaries.

‘Democracy’  is  such  a  frequently  abused  word  and  concept,  but  it  might  be   helpful  to  limit  our  notion  of  a  ‘pure’  democracy  to  as  large  or  small  a  group  of   people  as  we  can  imagine  in  full  control  of  its  political  and  civic  destiny  through   the  full  participation  of  each  individual  concerning  any  issue  of  substance  to  the   community.  Necessarily,  when  we  expand  the  size  of  the  group,  the  more  diluted   the  demos  is  likely  to  become.  I’ll  leave  it  to  the  reader  to  infer  anything  he  or  she   likes  from  this,  but  my  point  here  is  to  suggest  something  about  poetic   production  in  society. When  poetry  works  for  me,  it’s  because  I  pick  up  on  something  uEerly  unique  in   the  poet’s  work.  I  don’t  often  know  what’s  working,  but  there’s  something  on  an   aesthetic  and  emotional  level  that  gets  through.  Somehow,  the  writer  has  worked   toward  and  found  an  original  means  of  communicating  a  ‘type’  or  ‘quality’  of   imagination-­‐‑-­‐‑something  extraordinarily  singular.  What  can’t  be  stressed  enough,   however,  is  that  work  of  this  nature  also  requires  considerable  effort  on  behalf  of   the  reader. The  popular  cultural  products  absorbed  and  consumed  in  our  ‘mass   democracies’  make  no  such  demands;  rather,  they  appeal  to  manufactured   consensus  and  seek  mostly  to  entertain.  In  such  an  environment,  something  like   a  personal  poetry  is  of  necessity  consigned  to  the  cultural  margins.  But  this  does   not  speak  to  the  inadequacy  or  irrelevance  of  the  craft  of  writing  poetry  today.   On  the  contrary,  I  think  we  can  take  such  exchanges  as  one  means  among  many   to  reestablish  communities  based  on  personal  contact,  on  efforts  to  communicate   and  understand,  and  on  commitments  to  freeing  up  greater  amounts  of  time  and   space  for  everyone  to  do  as  they  please. Poetry,  in  so  many  words,  is  great  work  if  you  can  do  it.

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