Last night at Traxx Bar in Union Station, J. David Gonzalez and I put on a reading for Writ Large Press’ 90 for 90 series, which is basically 90 events in 90 days. It’s an ambitious project that Writ Large Press seems to be handling seamlessly. We invited Hank Cherry, Shawnacy Kiker Perez, Yago S. Cura, and Joe Donnelly to read poems, essays, or stories about work — a subject that has always been on my mind.
For some of my favorite artists, work has been a central theme. Think about Van Gogh’s earlier work: the potato eaters, the men and women working the field like lost saints. Think about the work of Millet (the painting below) who influenced Van Gogh. Think about Philip Levine’s “What Work Is”: the understanding of why men drink gin or stand in line for work at an axle plant. Think about Denis Johnson’s famous story “Work”: two addicts stripping copper wire from abandoned homes. When you know how to work, it can inspire, it can become poetic, it can make words real. Work is such a part of our lives; therefore it naturally becomes a major part of art.
Honestly, the crowd was slim last night for the readings about work. It was mostly the readers and their significant others and the people who showed up to get shitfaced before a ride on the surfliner to San Diego. The late-night commuters shuffled in and some unsuspecting people sat down and ordered drinks and listened to us read. It was a great reading filled with writers I admire. But I wasn’t sure if the people at the bar, the strangers, would give a shit about us.
But what I found was that there were three people who stayed for all the readings. Their names were James, Paul, and Mark, and they would sometimes yell in the middle of a story, shouting a loud cry of appreciation over the recollection of a place they’ve been before, a certain phrase, a certain moment. At the end of the reading, I went and thanked the three men for listening. That’s when a young man named Paul grabbed my hand, and he said, “I never thought I would like this shit, but you guys are speaking truth. All those bangers out there, they’re always trying to be tough, but this is what they should be talking about.” He had tattoos on his arms and a bald head, and he was wearing a cut off and a pair of basketball shorts. There was a brown liquor in front of him, and he had that spaced off look that showed he had already polished off a couple of other drinks before. He was shaking my hand for a bit of an awkward beat too long. Continue reading “Put Some Work into your Art…Literally”