“That beautiful man Bukowski” is invoked in this volume of poems on the theme of work, his own poetry, according to a contributing author, “one of the few things that kept me going during those long and deadening hours” at a joyless job. Yet the inspiration of Bukowski as acne-scarred, working-class poet hangs over the book as a whole like the scent of sweat-saturated polyester coveralls. “While at work I go into the bathroom stall and hide,” another poem begins, or, as another poet laments in regard to an electronic time-clock, “If I can’t get / this clock to talk / I’ll be taking / a long walk.” “No back braces, no hydraulic lifts,” writes yet another, “just the promise of a ruptured disc.”
The contents of this book are are rough poetry, in the sense both of being typed or scrawled by calloused hands and in the sense that this little stapled volume has no pretensions to literary polish. “Make way for the labor poet,” the “Forword” (sic) declares: “I now have control, as I climb out of this hole,” and such sentiment–the act of poetry as therapy, as a means of catharsis, screaming against the injustices of the work-a-day world, characterizes the pieces that follow. Hence it is the flavor of Bukowski (much diluted from its original strength) that gives bite to these pages, not, say, the spirit of Rimbaud’s “what an age of hands!” with its critique of capitalism and attack upon the underlying cultural conceptions of labor.
The “works” here are not manifestos for reform, and they rarely extend any sympathy or understanding outside of the closed world of the authorial self. Henry Denander’s “All My Jobs,” for instance, is a list poem telling us about, well, all the jobs the poet (one can assume the narrative voice here is autobiographical) has worked. In another piece, “The Designated Underpaid Office Manager,” a faux job description penned by Patricia Carragon, we are told “Complaining Isn’t Professional!” as the satire screams its own complaint. Indeed, the world described by this book is a desperate one, with the release or refuge of writing as the only positive element in an otherwise utterly bleak existence. “Another day swallowed / by the wrinkled hand of / time and all that will / remain is this poem,” writes Wayne Mason in what is, ironically, as much an homage to the work of poetry as it is an expression of bitter mourning at the passage of time and the sacrifice of precious time to “work.”
“I would quit if / I could find another job with / the same benefits,” writes Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal, adding later, that only “Because I need / to eat, because others count on / me, I stay in this pit.” Such is the sentiment of these pages. For some miserable laborers, hearing such feelings voiced by others may offer a sense of community and provide tools for future forays into poetry–certainly this is a democratic volume, embracing all who speak as poets. For other readers, however, the unending refrain of “How much longer can I continue to do this?” moaned by poem after poem, will quickly become, itself, a hard piece of work to get through.