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Woman Sitting at the Machine, Thinking

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Couldn’t lv this book more. // “a typesetter changes man to person / will they catch her” (17) // “she thinks about everything at once without making a mistake” / yes! / “the layers, fossils. the idea that this machine she controls / is simply layers of human workhours frozen in steel, tangled / in tiny circuits, blinking out through lights like hot, red eyes.” // “All my life, the urgency to speak, the pull toward silence.” CA Conrad says they fled the factory to save themselves then after years of writing found the factory on their desk. Brodine’s poetics shows how to do more than describe work, she engages it, subverts it sometimes –by imagining bosses are elephants, changing the words it’s her job to typeset, imagining fish in darkness glowing their own light. By centering relationships and solidarities. The poems travel, interrupt themselves w/the coordinated scripts of a job: “this set of codes slips through my hands, a / loose grid of shadows with big gaps my own thoughts sneak / through.” Scribe beside the text. As I spent a long time not critically examining the university, I didn’t think much of the people behind the type, what means and social relations of production a mass-market book requires, what oppressions and resistances. Brodine imagining pounding on the pebbled glass of a supervisor’s window. He could I not love this book for writing printing work w/integrity, having worked at an industrial printing press, having printers on both sides of the family. I’ve seen the title poem get pulled into a couple of anthologies as a great piece of labor poetry but that long sequence is ideally read in full and the threads followed through the rest of the book which moves to the other overlapping spheres of Brodine’s life, her activism, family, gender, sexuality, illness. I struggle with labor poetry when it atomizes people into workers as workplaces do. It reduces their identities; it’s gotta be Labor+ poetry. WSatMT giving space to the wide sweep of Brodine’s thoughts and vibrancy of other quarters of her life. It never feels as if Brodine searches for her subjects, is what’s happening to her, her days—a thermos of coffee, helping clean out her grandmother’s home, getting pulled over w/friends by cops, having a breast removed to stop the spread of cancer. A whole life. // “Survival is a repetitive process.”

Introductions and prefaces usually make me want to puke. This is an exception. From Meridel Le Sueur’s compact, raw intro: “As a poet wounded in my time…driven down into the pits.” Le Sueur does seem like one of those great feminist-labor writers overshadowed when the wave of leftist writing broke in the 40s.

Also read the excellent microchips for millions by Janice Lobo Sapigao and Excess—The Factory by Leslie Kaplan (and in one of those strange twists that almost never happens in the diffuse world of poetry readership and my own hermitship, talked to Laura Marris about her reading and review of Excess–the Factory). Together, these books make me wonder what we could call labor poetry now; who is saying what about feminist, queer, & anti-racist labor poetry; its possibilities and pitfalls in this moment. Some research questions.

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About the Author

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Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.

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