National Poetry Day – Fred Voss

Fred Voss and Joan Jobe Smith

Fred Voss and Joan Jobe Smith

Fred Voss writes about the consequences of capitalism specifically through factory work, and there’s nothing Romantic about the factories and the machinists and their fate.

His machinists do not tug forelock. They do not smile. They are pissed off, and they do not conform to the behaviour required of an accountant’s spreadsheet.

They’re illogical, they swear, they cheat, they hate their bosses, they are sexist, and they are fatalistic. You do not need to imagine the effect of reducing the wages of these people to see if that boosts flagging productivity. It’s all described here.

What bludgeons it’s way through, is how humanity is defeated by industrialisation, or what’s called Fordism, as in Henry Ford and the first production line. I’d like to say humanity wins, but really, it doesn’t here.

The machinists are not just saying ‘we are not the machine’, they oppose what’s heaped upon them by being what they are, and consequently the winner takes all.

“who must now beg
other companies for the right
to be adults.” from Broken

These poems confront a post-industrial, post-Fordist future, and the onus is on us, the reader. Like capitalism, Voss drags us all in, no matter how we think we can escape with class, circumstances, education and background, he’s asking, ‘If we are not the machine, what are we?’ If there really is no alternative, and there is nothing outside ‘the machine’, therefore we must create something immediately.

“to spend your life wrenching words out of your heart
writing novel after novel after novel that will never get published” from Winning.

Voss makes us look at a post-industrial society of survivors, former machinists struggling with this unknown, uncreated future.

“These words I write my poems with
have picked up the broken lives of thousands of men
on concrete factory floors” from Why I Will Never Stop Writing.

His defiance to top-down inevitability, and the way that he expresses human bewilderment, encourages me, and I often return to read his poems to remind myself that to be sucked into the hegemony is defeat.

that seem to know nothing about how any of this has happened
that something
has gone terribly wrong.” from Shrunken.

Voss shows the human potential for destruction, and yet the poem survives.

“that what is inside ourselves
can still blow all those things up
into radioactive dust
in a few minutes time.” from We’d Better Not Lose Touch With It.

There is an alternative to Ayn Randian, economic liberalism if we want it. He shows that free market, free trade, capitalist globalization must not be “the best or the only way for modern societies to develop”. TINA is dead, and Fred Voss survives.

What do you think?

Thanks to Penniless Press, the poetry of Fred Voss is available to read online.

He has three collections published through Bloodaxe Books.

And he’s on You Tube.