The Tipping Point

It isn’t lost on me that I am failing in my quest to blog meaningfully every day during National Poetry Month about working-class poetry and poetics.  I haven’t posted (I mean really posted) in a week.  I knew, in advance, that this week would be difficult, so I recruited the help of my two amazing guest bloggers who have enriched the discussion with their perspectives and thoughts.  But I thought I’d be able to manage at least a couple blog posts that consisted of more than just short lists or links or cut and pasted poetry.  But I couldn’t, and here’s why: I work two jobs in the three days a week I’m not parenting my four-year old son.  But that’s not why.  What happened is that the extra burden of grading papers (68 at about 15 minutes each  = an additional 17 hours of work, though it feel longer) coincided with becoming over-extended at my second job (fundraiser for a national school lunch reform organization).  But I’m not pointing this out because it’s a big deal.  It’s a tiny deal.  I got busy and I couldn’t blog, but here’s the point I’m making.

No matter how much I identify as working-class (how much I value my blue-collar roots, how often I feel like the uncouth ragamuffin who somehow stumbled into the party/meeting/event, how disenfranchised I feel from opportunities I see afforded to peers who were blessed enough to have certain financial, cultural and educational advantages) I am not working -class.  One of my jobs is teaching literature as part of a Ph.D. program for chrissake.  The other job pays a very fair wage commensurate with my experience.  I have the luxury of excellent, affordable, dependable daycare three days a week (and I use the word “luxury” ironically), and I have parenting support from my son’s father.  I am able to stay home two of the five work days with my child.  I buy him seaweed snacks.  Seaweed snacks!  I have a car and red cowboy boots.  I travel with my son by plane to see my parents in Florida twice a year.  I just purchased new drip pans for my stove top.  Not at all working-class.

And yet, something as small as a confluence of an uptick in work commitments threw me completely off-track for a full week (that’s a full 25% of my commitment to blog).   This is one of the reason’s why I value working-class poetry so goddamn much.  If I can lose 25% of my writing time as a result of some additional work commitments, what about the subsistence laborer?  The single working mom making minimum wage? The factory worker who is also a father who is also an active union member?  What is their tipping point that makes it impossible for them to write?  For many of them, it’s the basic functioning of their lives.  For many working-class poets and would-be poets, the idea of having time or the energy to write is laughable.  The idea of taking two or three years off from a job to attend an MFA program is a fantasy.  And how many poems can a factory worker produce when compared to an industrious MFA student whose main charge, main responsibility at that point in their career is to write poems?

Does contextualization count when reading a poem?  No.  And yes.  A poem must move me despite the conditions of its creation.  But to know a poem was produced by a person who has to struggle for any time at all to write, who has to write past the physical and mental exhaustion  that minimum wage labor, or repetitive factory labor, or manual labor brings, who writes without any support or encouragement, to know this affects the way I feel about the poem.  The way I feel the poem.  The materiality of the poem is affected by the conditions of the poem’s producer.  Carhartt, not Brooks Brothers.  And the certain recognizable weave of the former is the one my hands enjoy the most.  Because it was created from labor for labor.

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2 Comments »

  1. This reminds me of Willem de Kooning’s famous quote, “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all of your time”. Don’t I know it. What’s more, you can’t just put down a wrench and pick up a pen. The mind is running in a different gear and it takes time to bring it to stop and retool for creativity. Yet, there have been times that I’ve stopped what I was doing at work to rush for a scrap of paper to blurt a poem. So go figure.

  2. spokagg said

    This reminds me of Willem de Kooning’s famous quote, “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all of your time”. Don’t I know it. What’s more, you can’t just put down a wrench and pick up a pen. The mind is running in a different gear and it takes time to bring it to stop and retool for creativity. Yet, there have been times that I’ve stopped what I was doing at work to rush for a scrap of paper to blurt a poem. So go figure.

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