[If you are a poet and would like to participate in this "Poetry and Money" Series, go HERE for information.]
A 3-Question Interview, A Sample Poem, and Book List Featuring
1) You are a poet. How do you make money to survive?
I lost my job last July a lay-off ten days before my birthday. I had 23 years with the company. It was a stunning bit of bad news. That’s how I used to make money to survive. In a factory. Building airplanes or working on airplane related materials. Working with my hands. Tinkering with mechanical things. I am presently on unemployment which will run out this February. I put every penny I can spare into my savings account so I can pay rent and then buy food. I teach violin lessons and that money also goes toward rent. Sometimes I do critiques or editing jobs for poets but not often. I have sent out seeds for more violin students and more poetry students. I keep at it. I read at Dartmouth last October and got paid a healthy honorarium. I didn’t even know how that happened. It paid the rent for an entire month. Things are sparse here and I send out at least fifteen job applications a week but have not got one single offer so far not even an interview. Survival is not easy. In four and a half years I’ll get my pension from the company and it will be enough to live on. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do in the meantime. I live day to day. I have been better off and I have been worse off. I like better off better. Right now I feel hopeful. I don’t know where my hope comes from but it’s there. Maybe it’s the fact that I have worked hard my whole life maybe it’s the kindness of strangers maybe it’s because I’m tough and I refuse to give up but hope is there it is palpable real and warmer than breakfast.
2) How does your choice affect your process of making your poems?
I have been able to write through pretty much every situation I’ve smacked into. I’ve made poems while comfortable and I’ve made poems while I was on food stamps. I’ve made poems while I was mentally healthy and I’ve made poems while I was mentally ill. I made poems the entire time I raised my son by myself. When I’m working with my hands as in building something as in tinkering as in embroidering as in painting or gardening or playing my violin or jumping around trying to get my students to fall in love while teaching. Words flow easier when my hands are moving. And my lay-off was certainly not my choice. It seems I should have more time to write but in reality I have more time to read which is the same thing. Reading feeds me. I thank The Animal Gods that my city library which is one of the best in the country is close enough to my house that it has become my second home. My house is full of books. I read and reread. I know writers who sometimes send me books and that is such a goodness. I’m writing a book about Henry Darger now and the poems don’t come easily. Henry and I fight and dance. It is difficult to engage him though his voice is loud and clear in my head. I’ve done my research. I don’t have a problem writing the poems once I have the stamina to open myself to him and his weird fretful legacy. I have never felt anything like writers block. I don’t really believe in it I guess. I think if we are writers then we are Writers whether we’re currently working on a specific poem or story or just living watching paying attention doing research raising a family or making pancakes. Practice helps of course. I write every day on my blog. Or I write letters or I write in my notebook. This is my writing practice. Doing the work like playing scales on my violin. It keeps me going it reminds me from day to day who I am it keeps my voice nimble and bright. (I recently read a post on FB that cautioned writers not to use so many (I)s in poems or anywhere else. I discount all these dire warnings these days and do what I please though this post is rife with them.)
3) What would you consider to be the pros and cons of how you have earned your income?
Though I loved building airplanes the work eventually got to me physically and my hands were ruined. I had joint reconstruction surgery on both my thumbs. It impaired my violin playing. For a long time I had to tell my left thumb to shift into third position though all the other positions came automatically came from tissue memory from muscle memory. It was strange it was like my earliest musical training had departed and I had to retrain myself. I spent hours a day on cement floors running back and forth. My feet screamed at night. I was raising my son by myself and working mandatory 12 hour days and weekends with every third weekend off. It broke my heart but I was proud of what I built I was a proud union worker. For the past eight years I worked on creating airplane documents a job easier on the body but heavier on the mind and heart. Physical work is so much easier than mental work. Meetings! Micro-managing bosses! Too much perfume! Cubicle noise! The man who thought he was Jesus! The loud chewer! Just too much closeness and stress. Those would be the cons. The pros were the fact that when I was in the factory I brought my violin to work everyday and practiced in the aisles or in the bathroom and no one minded. In fact a lot of people came to appreciate Bach because of it. We were in The Largest Building in The World and the acoustics were superb. I found a fellow poet with whom to write and we wrote poems for each other on scrap paper. He (Bill Bell) was my entire poetic community but it was a good one it was exactly what I needed. I saw enough people to actually make friends not an easy thing for me. And they are still my friends. I took great pride in the machines I
built. And the money was good enough to send my son to private school and later to college. How amazing to help build a machine of such stunning grace and beauty. I guess I am at heart a factory girl and I always will be.
A SAMPLE POEM:
Love Letter To The Whores On Aurora Avenue
Thin girl with pleather pants, push-up bra junkie girl with braids, scratching, scratching, swollen ankle girl dragging a suitcase, bruised arms when it's hot, when you walk backward down the street on Boeing paydays, on Microsoft paydays. I love you at dusk doing drug deals on the phone in the parking lot at Las Margaritas, weeping and talking to yourself, flagging down middle aged men in Walgreens wobbly in the summer in your halter top, satin hot pants, short skirt, sweat shirt, rhinestones, ribbons, lipstick, your clopclopclop forward like a horse in giant awkward shoes, a horse galloping, a horse swimming. I give you secret names, Misty, Angela, Becky, names that invent your history, names with hissing green lawns and oak trees, high school diplomas and brothers, birthday cakes and baptisms, sleepovers and books and diaries and movies and Coca-Cola. I name you Patricia, Linda, Wanda. I make your names splendid in my mouth. I love your busted rib, split lip, broken arm, broken finger, broken wrist, broken knee, bleached and huge fabulous hair in the single beds in the motels by the Evergreen-Washelli cemetery where you are found every week, your mouths open or closed, your sneer, snarl, your glory, your shy, sly, bony deliberate finger raised at my car. I love your arms, your legs, your feet, your hands, your ass, your breasts, your thighs, your voice. I love you when you are actually an undercover policewoman, when you slap him or slump against him, when you hold the cell phone with your arm straight out toward the street and yell and tell him you've had enough, you've had enough, when you finally, finally get away and when you don't. I love you my good girls, my darling good girls.
First published in Many Mountains Moving
SOME BOOKS (including chapbooks) BY REBECCA LOUDON:
Cadaver Dogs (No Tell Books, Reston, VA, 2008)
Navigate, Amelia Earthart's Letters Home (No Tell Books, Reston, VA, 2006)
RADISH KING (Ravenna Press, Edmonds, WA, 2006)
TARANTELLA (Ravenna Press, Edmonds, WA, 2004)
TRISM (Horse Less Press, Providence, RI, 2012)