Poetry News

Jean Day, Joshua Clover, Mary Burger & More Full-Timers at Winter's Poetic Labor Project

By Harriet Staff


January at The Poetic Labor Project features writing from Jean Day, Marie Buck, Joshua Clover, Jen Coleman, Rachel Zolf, Mary Burger, William Cloud, and Tim Shaner. We're constantly in awe of the clear-eyed takes on poetry and labor that PLP's editors manage to publish, and this issue is no different. All good reads, from Day—"Everybody comes from work"—to Zolf, who writes of Akilah Oliver, to Clover: "Some people say that the practice of making poems is a lot like labor, that they are structurally or phenomenologically similar, and I don’t really believe this. Poetry, not being compelled in that material sense, not being a source of value, will always be absolutely, qualitatively different from labor." And here's an excerpt from Mary Burger's "Laboradory":

My parents grew food. They grew up growing food. Vegetable, animal. My father’s family had a dairy farm. In a faded picture his father leads some neighbors in a barn raising. Bartering labor for labor. My mother’s father was a carpenter. He built the church steeple that still punctuates their little town. My grandmothers kept kitchen gardens and flocks of chickens and relentlessly put their children to work on them. Growing food wasn’t a stand against agribusiness or a symbol of the artisanal life. But it wasn’t completely unrelated.

And a bit from Jen Coleman:

I'd like to believe nothing is impossible. It’s wanting to believe that nothing is impossible that makes the impossible invisible. I want my way around it, right up to the edges of it, without ever knowing it exists. It.

I want—was chief it said

I worked in factories. Janitor, hotel maid, gas station attendant, dish washer. I drove a school bus. I tried to write in the time provided by each job’s inefficiencies. I was tired.

At Holiday gas station, my workmates were fired for trying to guess winners among unsold scratch-off lottery cards. Another was fired when the till came up $200 short. I saw her later working at the SuperAmerica station. My weekly paycheck was $200.

When Skill entreated it—the last—

At the three ring binder factory, not much happened. The break time bell was loud. The punch clock was violent.

Driving a school bus, a lot happened. Lives were at risk. I was paid seven dollars an hour: the most I'd ever earned.

I can't stand stifled expression. Even the crudest suggestion in a narrative makes me weep. My sinuses are inflamed for hours after watching a romantic comedy. Usually it is stifled love, but it might be stifled anything.

A mailman prepares to express his philosophy, tries, is misunderstood, I melt.

In a predictable narrative, I am destroyed before the stifling happens. A mailman prepares...forget it. I am melting.

And when so newly dead—

I could not deem it late—to hear
That single—steadfast sigh—

I applied to graduate school to stop driving a school bus. How did I get in? How did I get funded? I still wonder. I loved it. I wrote a manuscript called The School Bus Murders. None of the poems were about work or school buses.

Read them all--and previous months' pieces--here. Also downloadable as a PDF.