This week we'll be running a guest theme, "Poems at Work". The theme was suggested (and most of the poems submitted) by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #537) The Former Miner Returns from His First Day as a Service Worker (at a McDonald's somewhere in Appalachia)
All day he crushed the spongy buns, pawed at The lids of burger boxes and kiddie pacs As if they were chinese puzzles. All day long his hands ticked, ready to latch on Or heave or curl around a tool Heavier than a spatula, All day he rubbed his eyes in the crisp light. All day the blue tile, the polished chrome, said Be nimble, be jolly, be quick. All day he grinned while the public, with bland Or befuddled faces, scowled over his head And mumbled, whispered, snarled, and snapped. All day his coworkers, pink and scrubbed, Prattled and glided and skipped while he, All bulk and balk, rumbled and banged. Near shift's end he daydreamed - of the clang Of rock on steel, the skreel Of a conveyer belt, the rattling whine Of the man-trip, the miner's growl of gears As if gnarled, toothing at the seam. He makes his slow way home, shadow among Roadside shadows, groping back in himself For that deep, sheltering dark. He has never been so tired. His hands have never been so clean.
from "For A Living: The Poetry of Work", ed. Nicholas Coles and Peter Oresick. I really liked the way this poem captures the image of a passing of a way of life. Perhaps it even makes a political point, but not in any in-your-face way. The language is spare and to the point, yet poetic: "shadow among/Roadside shadows, groping back in himself". And the last line makes its point in a quietly devastating way. Mark Defoe (b. 1942) who now teaches in West Virginia, has also worked as a farmhand, a bellman, a waiter, a circulation manager for a large newspaper, an advertising copywriter, and a free-lance writer. His two books of poetry are Bringing Home the Breakfast and Palmate. Vikram. [On the theme] I don't know what you'll feel about these poems, but they interested me because one of the subjects that interests me, and on which I write quite a bit, is the experience of work. Not what work does - not the business a person is in, or his or her profession, or what they produce - but work itself as the human action that takes up so much of our lives. It's not something most poets feel like writing on, despite the fact that poetry not being exactly a paying living, most poets have had to work in other fields. That's why I thought that what poetry does exist about the experience of work is derogatory or contemptuous of it (like Larkin's Toad poem). But then I discovered two really good anthologies on the subject: For A Living: The Poetry of Work edited by Nicholas Coles and Peter Oresick, and the Oxford Book of Work, edited by Keith Thompson. They opened up a whole new perspective on the literature of work, and I'd like to share some of these with the list. The anthologies are somewhat different. The Oxford Book includes all types of literature, not just poetry, and is mostly classical from well known writers. For A Living is contemporary, part of the what seems to be the democratisation of poetry, with people of all kinds, all backgrounds writing poetry, mostly personal. This has admittedly produced vast floods of terrible poetry, but some genuinely good writers have come out of it, and sifted through by expert readers like the anthology editors you get a range of pretty good stuff, that does what poetry does so well: sharply illuminate a moment, an idea, a person, a thought. Vikram. [Endnote] I just noticed that today is Labor Day in the United States. Rather apt, that. thomas.