Working form: The poetics of writing work
Shaner, Timothy W.
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A response, in part, to Dana Gioia's claim that U.S. poetry “seldom deals directly with the public institutions that dominate American life” (“Business and Poetry” 114), Working Form offers evidence to the contrary in what Juliana Spahr calls the poetry of “writing work” ( Live ). Rather than accepting the marginalization of their vocation as writers by the “laboring society” (Hannah Arendt The Human Condition ), poets who write work confront the imposition of labor—that most dominating of institutions—by transforming their own jobs into engines of poetic production. William Carlos Williams, for example, not only employed the rhythms of his working day as his poetic measure, he used the materials of his medical practice as his compositional toolkit. We thus find poems written from the perspective of Williams's Ford, purchased to make house calls, as well as fragmentary observations scratched on the run on prescription pads, whose diminutive size finds materialization in short poems like “The Red Wheel Barrow” as well as in the overall disjunctive form of Spring and All . Linking Williams's interstitial poetics, a poetry of the inbetween, to the Objectivists (Charles Reznikoff) and to Language and post-Language poetry (Charles Bernstein, Kit Robinson, Robert Grenier, and Spahr), “Working Form” theorizes the largely unacknowledged practice of writing work through a series of close readings informed by Hannah Arendt's definitions of labor, work, and action in The Human Condition and Michel de Certeau's mapping of anti-disciplinary tactics in The Practice of Everyday Life . By situating their poetry within the working day, the writing work poet subverts labor's dominance over what Arendt calls the otherwise sublimated “work” and “action” of the polis.