Thursday, September 19, 2013

Labor Relations (1891)

Dawn Potter

The road is muddy, but the night is dry.
Italian, single: shot in the eye.

"We'll meet at the store," the rioters said.
Hungarian, single: shot in the head.

Snowmelt has swollen the poisonous crick.
Hungarian, single: shot in the neck.

The deputies' lanterns burn orange and red.
Polish, five children: beaten till dead.

"Pinkertons!" "Fistfights!" "Evictions!" "Unrest!"
Hungarian, single: shot through the breast.

[from a manuscript in progress: Chestnut Hill, a verse history of southwestern Pennsylvania]


Maureen said...

So evocative. Love the title.

Christopher said...

Me too, but in labor relations past grievances are almost always still present!

So here goes.

Yes, publishing is a business, Maureen, but so in a sense is all writing, i.e. written language. In some cultures vowels weren't included in the earliest scripts because it was felt they were too ‘sacred’ to be used as tools for ordinary exchange. In other cultures writing wasn't developed at all, and according to Jared Diamond that includes every single one of the pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas, both North and South -- extraordinary! And some of our ‘history’ books still call the Western Hemisphere ‘undiscovered,’ can you imagine? No wonder the ‘Indians’ decided not to write!

The only poet I know of who could deal with that was Jerome Rothenberg in Technicians of the Sacred. Jared Diamond has other arguments to explain the absence of alphabets in the early Western Hemisphere, and he’s very sharp on most things, and very helpful. But Jared Diamond doesn’t consider how precious language can be in a non-commercial context, how close to the breath and thus to the soul, and why it must be protected.

Palaentology is a fascinating study but not because of what the very early documents have to say. Cuneiform, for example, is like the bytes on our earliest computers -- when the code is cracked you just find IBM. On the other hand, Mayan and Celtic scripts would have been of no use whatsoever in the marketplace, because those figures were comprehensible only to priests in places of worship, whatever that might have meant what is more mean. Certainly even our great English language can’t get us there as hard as some of us try, Yeats, Eliot, Gl├╝ck, me.


I’m a master of fielding rejections -- if I receive an answer at all it’s over 6 months in coming and even then just a few common-sense bytes that say no. But for me the worst moment of all is when I send a poem I’m working hard on right now to a very good friend who is asking me the same question the poem is engaged in, and I get a reply from her offering to edit my poem, as if a writer has to be edited before he or she can have anything worthwhile to say -- as if the editing were in the end all that the poem has to say. And I worry a lot about that.


I know I’m being rough, Dawn, but not as rough as you are on yourself. As you said in your post yesterday, you know you shouldn’t and yet you still do.

But you are the exception that proves the rule, dear friend – you write as if you didn’t care, like an angel, even as at the same time with your big feet of clay you do. And that’s why you’re so good -- but, boy, it’s sometimes hard to be your friend!