Poetry News

New Issue of Poetic Labor Project Features Selected Writing from Chile

By Harriet Staff

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A new issue of the Poetic Labor Project is up! Poet Carlos Soto Roman curated and translated selected writing from Chile, and just in time for "extended May Day." Includes work from Roberto Contreras, Juan Carlos Urtaza, Daniela Acosta, Juan Pablo Pereira, Jaime Pinos, Pablo Labglois, and Pablo Soto-Roman.

The PLP has also published here poems and essays on labor from Paul Ebenkamp, Jeanine Webb, Katy Bohnic, Cheena Marie Lo, Ted Rees, Sandra Simonds, Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Jess Heaney, Catherine Theis, Trish Spotts, and Red Tees.

We all "do two jobs" (or more)--that is, struggle to support ourselves and our families / communities, and to make writing, to be writers. So what does the terrain of this daily experience feel and look like? What can we learn from it?

We're into this straightforward response (but read 'em all, while you're at work!) from Juan Pablo Pereira (Santiago, Chile, 1978), a Chilean poet, translator and poetry reviewer.

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I'm a poet, although I work in a civil court of law as a law clerk, or something like that. As far as I understand, a law clerk is a qualified professional worker there, in the States. Here, not so much, or not necessarily: you can find a whole lot of barely literate people in the courts of law around here; these people (mostly nice, hard working people) do most of the menial work. And it's a huge workload: the Chilean civil process is not oral but written, which implies a heavy, Kafka-esque amount of writing on huge, dusty and always-prone-to-fall-apart files, called “expedientes”; this way of doing things goes all the way back to the Inquisition time, no joking.

The writing gets done by people like me. We do not sew (yes, those files are not glued or stapled but sewed) or carry around files. Instead we write a lot: “we” meaning generally people who went to law school but dropped out, or people who are about to earn their degrees (law degrees are annoyingly difficult to get in Chile). We do that work under the guidance and control of a judge. So you can imagine how the writing we do is: dull, archaic, and ritualistic. It also must be as precise and monosemic as possible; of course, it’s all about orders, and orders must be plain and easy to follow.

All of this has consequences. Since I do write a lot at work, to get home and keep on writing can be slightly unheartening in the best of cases, and almost revolting when I have a really bad day (my work can be very, very boring, though this is not always the case; sometimes it can be fun, hard to believe as that is). I read once about a lawyer-poet who gave up naps; I'd love to say I did the same thing (I didn't). At this point, I guess I must clarify something: I went to law school, but never completed all the stuff I was supposed to in order to be a certified lawyer (in the States the equivalent would be to be admitted to the bar or something); I suppose I'll do it, some day. That make me a don't-really-know-what-heck-I-am, and some label-loving people get easily puzzled with me and what I do.

Labels are something you must learn to deal with. In my job I am affectionately treated as a cloud dweller. Around poets I can feel that funny vibe that is directed to block-headed bureaucrats suspicious of militant petit bourgeoisie (I do not rule out being a bit paranoid here). Of course, I do have to turn off and on some switches inside when I go from one environment to the other, though sometimes I intentionally keep some switches on at the wrong place and time, with hilarious/awkward results. I guess everyone who lives this sort of amphibian life would understand what I mean.

I'm not sure how my work and the poetry I write get along with each other. I don’t write much poetry, although I've written enough to fill a couple of slim books. I do not conceive my poetry as a getaway from my ordinary life, so to speak, nor as an extension of the same. I could understand if someone would look for links between law and literature in what I write, but it's a little shameful to confess that probably won't find any. What I am trying to address is that I am not really able to grasp the connections between such different practices, though I believe they exist and sometimes I’ve even seen or foreseen them.

Of course, the real problem here is if it is sustainable to live like this. My best guess is: probably not. Or more precisely, not if I expect to be a great or even good (literary) writer (I've been told I kind of suck at the judiciary one, too convoluted, etc.). But I can live with that. I like the sense of living in the grey world of routine and (almost) at the same time being able to write/make a poem, in colors or in grey, slightly stained but perhaps meaningful for me or, if in luck, even readable by the others I live and work with.