Review: “Hard Labor” by Fred Voss and Don Winter

Hard Labor Poetry by Fred Voss and Don Winter Coming Labor Day 2016 from Working Stiff Press

Hard LaborHard Labor is a sampling of working-class poetry written by two must-read small press poets Don Winter and Fred Voss.

With candor, Winter’s explores how blue collar workers cope with monotonous drudgery in his poem, “Dressing Burgers at Wanda’s Grill:”

During his 23 years here
on each one
he curls ketchup
into a mouth,
places two pickles
for eyes, two lines
of mustard for eyebrows.
The onion bits,
he says,
are pimples.

At the end of the piece, Winter’s extended metaphor between the burger and the worker, in the last stanza, is chilling:

We watch him finish off
each face with a top hat, mash
the condiments together.
bury each one
in a thin, wax box
All those little caskets
on the greasy steel rack.

This coupled with several other pieces give you a sense of what it is truly like to give your life to the food industry.

In “Cleaning Up at the Hamtramck Burger Chef,” the narrator’s discontent manifests into an act of defiance, which is easy to relate to:

Nights at this place
boss lines spray bottles up
across the counter. He says the red’s
for shelves, the blue’s for toilets,
and the white’s only for stainless steel.
His eyebrows frown, but when
the bastard disappears into his office
I spray what I want
onto what I want.

One of Winter’s strengths is his ability to create three-dimensional characters in less than five stanzas. Voss also shares this strength and introduces you, muckraker style, to the inner workings of factory life. In “STEEL COMMUNION,” Voss eloquently likens religion to work:

I look across the factory floor past rolling vertical gantry mill slick with oil
and 2-ton drop hammer I hear once crushed a man’s skull and see
Ruben from a holy mountain in Guatemala
on his tube bending machine bending steel
the same steel dust on our skin
the same drops of sweat glistening on our backs. . .

Not only does he paint a picture of the shop, but he also reveals camaraderie, a group of men whose psalms are the machines that they work with and on. Voss also pays tribute to the working class and questions why blue collar workers’ jobs are considered less prestigious than others in “STUDYING THE HISTORY IN A STEELCUTTER’S EYE:”

I could have put on a $2,000 dollar suit and argued cases
in court
or guided a scalpel
into a human heart
instead I learned how a man can turn a wrench
or swing a hammer or square a shiny oxygen valve
for an old man’s last breaths
with as much grace and nobility and art
as Arturo Toscanini
lifting his baton to conduct
Beethoven.

Somehow Voss is able to make what could be perceived as an inclement occupation into one of valor.

Celebrate Labor Day by expanding your working-class poetry collection with this chapbook published by Working Stiff Press (741 Broadway Street, #1265, Niles, Michigan 49120) for just $10 (including postage and handling). Checks can be written out to Don Winter and well-concealed cash all right.

For more information check out donwinterpoetrybooksonline.com/hard-labor.html or on Facebook.

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