Tuesday, May 22, 2007

La Perruque, Part Deux

The first issue of WIG features work by Chris Alexander, Marcus Bales, Anselm Berrigan, CA Conrad, Laura Elrick, Kristen Gallagher, William R. Howe, Michael Kelleher, and Chris Stroffolino, among others. The centerpiece is Tim Shaner’s informative email exchange with Kit Robinson about how Kit’s various jobs in the tech industry punctuate his books: Where he was working when a particular poem was published, where the writing happened (parking lots, airplanes, Marriotts), how the job shaped the poems’ form. I wonder if there’s something inherently documentary about work talk, if the subject lends itself best to more or less straight-ahead, “I do this, I do that” narrative accounts. Kristen Gallagher describes an assignment she set for her community college students to write about their work lives; she was surprised to see their descriptions coming back “in a plain, straightforward prose” after a semester of mostly poetry, as if “the experiences they record fit best in the mode of storytelling.”

That documentary drift may also reflect the fact that it’s difficult to tell, without a little backstory, how (or even if) a day job bears on particular poem at the level of form. How do you know, unless the content stands up and slaps you in the face with it, that the poem you’re reading’s the fruit of la perruque? Robinson’s short, ‘real-time’ observations in pieces with titles like “Marriott Renaissance” and “Sheraton Palace” sound molded to fit the interstices of the workday, and the content (“a trading community/full of life/coming back into the city”) often points to the habitat of corporate employment. (Robinson also helpfully tells Tim that “Marriott Renaissance” was written just before a press conference at GM.)

But there are lots of other formal commitments nosing the poem into that particular shape as well: a poetics of dailiness, a la O’Hara and Berrigan, one of Robinson’s early teachers; Objectivist phenomenology; Pound’s dichtung = condensare, etc. It’s interesting to know how poems get made at work, but the real promise (and challenge) of a journal like WIG is in its potential to show how it is that work makes poems.

As new issues appear, I’d be especially interested to read more about:
+ Non-office labor: childrearing, forklift driving, sick relative caregiving, etc. Some jobs are harder to perruque from than others, and I’m curious how poems come out of that (though with too loose a definition, a job could become anything you do that’s not writing poems, which is really just being in the world, and all poetry's sort of about that already).

+ Relationships between writing and working that aren’t already assumed to be inimical. Or, put another way, how big a syllabus does it take to make writing and a work life not appear as enemies?

+ Some stab at discerning the formal qualities of writing a la perruque. What would successful work writing, or ‘writing work’ look like? How does the form of the writing enact or otherwise express the experience of working?
It’s an interesting journal with a lot of promise. To subscribe or submit, you can write to:

130 E. 49th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97405

$4, checks payable to Tim Shaner

No comments: