Saturday, February 19, 2011

The work is in the poem, the poem is in the work

This week's news on the international front has been about Bahrainis and Libyans and Yemenis and Iranians protesting their home-grown despots. News on the home front has focused on the world of work. The Wyoming Legislature refused to take federal money for unemployment benefits. Legislators also tried to take away teachers' collective bargaining rights. Rich Republicans in Congress want to cut budgets and the jobs that go with them. Wisconsin teachers and city snowplow drivers and fire fighters went on strike and staged a huge protest at the state capitol. They were outraged that their multi-millionaire governor wanted to eliminate their union rights and their jobs with it.

We're in the middle of a class war. The rich want to turn us into low-paid drones. Some of us are there already, if we have a job. 

I've had so many jobs in my 60 years. I had paper routes in grades 6-8. In high school, I was a busboy and dishwasher and grocery store bagboy. In college, I had these jobs: fast-food clerk and cook, mower of lawns, construction laborer, assembly-line worker building roof trusses, hospital orderly, cafeteria cashier, photographer's assistant, free-lance writer and a few other short-term gigs. After college, I was a bookstore clerk, reporter for a Florida construction trade journal, warehouse order-puller, editor of a journal for a Denver real estate developer, editor of a weekly arts and entertainment weekly, sports reporter, free-lance writer, telephone solicitor, corporate publications editor, tutor, junior high paper grader, college composition teacher and editor of a literary magazine. In 1991, I went to work for the State of Wyoming and, for two years in the mid-1990s, worked for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. A public employee for 20 years. 

I know what work is. I'm a Democrat and a union member in a state with a shortage of each. I deeply resent the demonizing of public employees by Republicans. It must stop. If not, who will do the work?

This week, I'm featuring writing about work. Some will be mine, some will come from the anthology "Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams," edited by M.L. Liebler. M.L. is coming to Cheyenne this time next week for a performance, workshop and judging of the Wyoming Poetry Out Loud competition, which is co-sponsored by my employer, the Wyoming Arts Council. One of my short stories is in the "Working Words" anthology. You can buy the book and read that and other fiction and essays and poetry about the world of work. I'm glad to be in the book. My payment for my submission was two free copies. This is typical for writers. We tend to be lousy capitalists. But I am very pleased to be included with M.L. and Philip Levine and Wanda Coleman and the late Walt Whitman and the very-much-with-us Eminem.

Here's an excerpt from a poem in the anthology. It's entitled "Work Work Work" and written by the late Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (1943-2006), who grew up in Pontiac, Mich., and became a Jesuit brother who worked with juvenile offenders and prison inmates in Detroit. The excerpt:

Work, work, work, not easy to define
   but easy to delineate
by those standing in line
to punch a clock
to buy a sandwich off the truck
to catch a bus / to catch a bus
to cash a check...
easy to delineate
by those standing in long lines of unemployed, underemployed and food
stamp lines

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