[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?
A family tragedy forced me to leave university my third year. It would take 15 years to constellate a job that would allow for return to my bachelor of arts studies, which surprisingly, would culminate in a teaching assistantship that, sadly, I declined for lack of sufficient funds to live on. A master of arts degree, at that time would have lifted me into work very different from being a master journeyman four-color process stripper in commercial and publications offset printing, a trade for which I apprenticed four years, paid well, and in which I would work for over 25 years. The frequent shift hours changes and mandatory overtime left me exhausted. That’s when and where poetry fully came into my life. I have now developed a freelance copy editing practice with tremendous support from my spouse. We pay our taxes, visit family and friends in Germany, and get by. The work schedule is vastly different from the years of production work. I have time to submit poems for publication, for access to those who would read poetry. The writing of poems is vastly different these days, with far more time to read, walk, and correspond with other poets.
2) How does your choice affect your process of making your poems?
When I thought about answering these three questions, the ever present headline behind my eyes was ‘poetry and money’. Instead, I see it is ‘Money . . . and Poetry.’ At 16 a high school teacher forced me to write my first poem, in iambic pentameter, of course. I found my self reveling in that making. I’d studied the classic and modern world poets but was eager to know what contemporary poets were writing. Allen Ginsberg was prominent at the time, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It encouraged me that my first Ginsberg poem wasn’t nearly his best, “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear”, but I loved his voice, cadence, outrage, and love for justice and song. I began writing poetry. For the next few university years I concentrated on Shakespeare, the Restoration poets, Shelley, Keats, Yeats, Dickinson, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stephens, and Edward Field. In the mid- seventies I discovered Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Muriel Rukeyser, Monique Wittig. Over the years I’ve read lots of Lew Welch, Kenneth Patchen, Lorine Niedecker, Frank Bidart, the classic haiku poets Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni, the first modern, Shiki, Santoka, and Takahashi, and contemporary haiku poets Michael McClintock, Jim Kacian, Alan Summers, marlene mountain, Bruce Ross, Merrill Gonzales, Tom Clausen, Johannes H. S. Berg, Taro Kunugi, and Tyrone McDonald. Through the Internet I continue to discover contemporary poets important to me, like Amy King, Trace Peterson, Noelle Kocot, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Jared Stanley, Anny Ballardini, Sabine Miller, Brenda Iijima, Katie Yates, Nada Gordon, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Ariana Reines, Ana Božičević, Lynn Behrendt, Dionne Brand, Charlie Mehrhoff, Bob Arnold, Scott Watson, CA Conrad, john martone, Anne Gorick, Bhanu Kapil, Arpine Konyalian Grenier, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, James Finnegan, Don Wentworth, and Aditya Bahl. (One is bound to overlook or temporarily forget the names of others in list-making but one must try.) And, there’s music, all kinds, and the visual arts without which there’d be lots less poetry from me.
As a printer, finding work was relatively easy for many years, so my focus was making time to write, sort of like cramming for exams, often on the fly, on scraps of paper at work, during lunch. Prior to printing I’d co-managed a cash and carry drycleaning store with a coin-operated laundry next door, in the city where I lived. Every day I spoke with, listened to, many voices — people of different ethnicities, ages, income levels, and that gave me energy to write, in contrast with the mostly, solitary tedious work in a darkened room at a light table waiting up ahead for me as a printer. One constant has been some words given me by a psychotherapist years ago: “Work with what you have.” My work choices were defined by the necessity of making a livelihood. Those five words shaped what I had been doing all along, and cued me to respect my efforts and my failures. Work and early life tragedies left me with a feeling of emptiness and fear. Making poems gave me something that could not be taken away, gave shape and continuity to my life, and brought me a kind of joy I hadn’t experienced since childhood.
In 1987 my poetry was awarded a major university prize by two distinguished professors, and it included a sizeable amount of money. This encouraged me to take my work more seriously, to take a long look at what I’d written to date. In 1991 I compiled my poems into a self-produced, perfect-bound volume titled “Intimate Boundaries.” I designed the layout and impositions, set the type, stripped the film negatives, plated them, and watched it run on press. The experience gave me momentum to write, including what would be a 16pp lyric narrative poem begun in 1974 and completed by 1996. In 1999 I began studying Japanese-derived forms, haiku, haibun. They grew experimental in my hands, becoming more like collage. During the past three years I’ve been using the Internet to read mostly contemporary journals and younger poets’ blogs and poetry, which has further opened up how I write, to include more voices, fragments, notes, even a kind of breathlessness at times, while still holding to some splintered lyric sense. Adrienne Rich once said that a way to keep poetry in our every day lives as a country, is to embed it into other things. Recently I placed a poem as an endnote to an essay; embed more from daily life — scraps of poems by others, conversations, menus, URLs, headlines, song titles, machine age noises, art works. In this respect I’m back to those scraps from which I began writing poems, except now these are life scraps inside whole poems. The world of work introduces planning, schedules, a type of moving inertia. It’s difficult to stay sensate, aware, politic. Poetry enlivens in many ways, and I write poems with or without the threat of money.
3) What would you consider to be the pros and cons of how you have earned your income?
No doubt there were probably poems never written and some that bore the strain of overwork. Yet the poems I did write are original and imaginative, and those qualities came from my work environment. Imagination appeased drudgery. When I couldn’t write words down because I was using both my hands to strip fast as I could 32 negatives to an acetate substrate for plating, I invented a rhythm as mnemonic, until I could get it down on paper when I’d arrive home after the end of my shift. When the digital revolution put me in front of a screen, it became far easier to let my mouse hand wander over to a pen and paper. Less poems died on the table. The world’s pace accelerated; I began to write longhand sloppily, unable to discern what I’d written; advertising and politics coopted words, to entertain, deceive, and persuade. I wrote poems to countermand. The printing occupation helped me develop eyes for extreme detail, a mind for organization. The Internet for me emphasizes chaos, less control, and with that, less fear. Yet, it brings news of daily suffering of all sentient beings who make and adapt their habitats, their life cycles in this biosphere; a suffering induced by the capitalist corporate drive for more money, from radiation, fracking, aphrodisiacs, circuses, zoos, better cosmetics, research; it brings news of the publication of “Google, King Zog’s Volume 1” — the first dictionary of Google images for every word entry in the condensed Oxford dictionary; and my poem begins, / what is the image, / for love / for extinction /?
A Sample Poem
A Back-To-Work Manual
– for Lew Welch
a year searching for a job. finding my senses with the seasons. as one. mind and body so happy together.
in 48 hours i will return to the man-made world of only my species, of alienation from our own labor.
to prepare i must control the hair under my arms, cover most of my skin, devise a smile and deodorize.
and most of all remember the do-not list:
1. gaze out the window
2. talk above a whisper to your self
or other beings
3. drink water too frequently
4. be curious about things unrelated to the job
5. work at your own pace
6. laugh whole-heartedly
7. expel gas naturally
8. be open
9. be still
10. stop blaming the rats
a honey bee –
at break we love an apple
to its core
(First published in Artis Magazine, July 2005)
SOME BOOKS BY Donna Fleischer:
Intimate Boundaries (self-produced, 1991)
indra’s net (bottle rockets press, 2003)
Twinkle, Twinkle (Longhouse Publishers, 2010)