Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Working Writer

As a poet with a day job I have always had a fascination with working stiff writers. I know many personally who have varying levels of education, putting in their eight or more hours a day somewhere, and try to find time to write. I first became interested in this after reading the contributor notes in the back of many different journals and wondered where the poets like myself were? These days it seems the norm to go to school to learn how to write and immediately jump into a teaching position. Pretty much they stayed in school. This isn’t meant as a knock at writers in academia because such an environment produced the likes of Donald Hall, Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton, and many others. Their talents more than speak for themselves. But I want to celebrate the salesmen, the lawyer, and the housewife who never got an who may or may not have a MFA and devote their lives to writing. Here are a few of my personal heroes:

Fernando Pessoa: The Patron Saint! He earned a living clerking at various companies and doing translations. He dropped out of college opting to learn by going to libraries and reading anything he could get his hands on. When he died he left behind a trunk filled with manuscripts under different pen names were found. I highly recommend Book Of Disquiet. It captures the inner workings of the artist and the frustration he felt at his mundane life.

Taha Muhammad Ali: Why isn’t more of his work translated into English? In Arabic he has a substantial body of work. His life is a fascinating read, much of which was lived as a refugee. For years he owned a gift shop in Israel. When I met him it was like being with my grandfather. He autographed my book with the request that I capture the poems. This is one of the prizes of my collection. Unfortunately Nowhere is his only book available in English. But his poems are so pregnant with imagery and power it's more than enough.

John B. Keane: An Irish Pub owner. How perfect is that? All his life he listened to people’s stories before finally putting them down on paper. They are full of the typical Irish humor in the midst of sadness. His play, The Field, was made into a brilliant movie starring Tom Berringer and Richard Harris as, "Bull" Mccabe, a puffed up and intimidating character. The role revitalized Harris’s career. It is difficult to find his books in stores, but they are still in print. Here is a loving tribute after his death.

Lorine Niedecker: Almost the entire span of her career was spent as a domestic. Fortunately she got her work out there, becoming good friends with Luis Zukofsky and William Carlos Williams. She is an unsung hero f modern poetry who influenced its direction in more ways than people realize. A few years back they finally put out a collected poems.

There are others worth mentioning: Earnest Hemingway (reporter, medic, adventurer), William Faulkner (postal worker, though he got fired for borrowing magazines then delivering them), William Carlos Williams (doctor), T.S. Elliot (Banker), Ted Kooser (Business), and Wallace Stevens (insurance).

posted by Out Of Jersey | 5:50 PM


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