Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Poetry Sweatshop

Tucked away in an old, abandoned factory on a back street in an eastern town is a poetry sweatshop. Gone are the days of a poet summoning creation in a light-filled study, a cat on the carpet, flowers on the desk, and a maid serving tea and scones as the afternoon sun relaxes towards the horizon. The economy is bad and working conditions have suffered.

The lucky poet may have some sort of patron, or even owner, but not all are provided with a suitable workplace. Patrons, too, are suffering, and many must board out their poets like horses. Poetry sweatshops are stables for poets. But here, the writers aren’t allotted even as much as a stall to work in. There is one room filled with small desks to which each poet is chained by the leg. The desks are outfitted with a small computer, a small notebook, and one pen. Replacement notebooks and pens must be requested via the poet’s patron, and God forbid the computer should crash. There is a strict limit of two bottles of water a day, to prevent too many bathroom breaks, especially among the women writers, whose claim to small weak bladders is regarded with suspicion.

Two over-enthusiastic foremen supervise production. They are authorized to deliver brief words of praise for copious output, and swift, harsh, if brief punishment for distraction or what is deemed laziness. Here, writer's block never lasts long. The foremen are not charged with determining quality. That falls to The Owner of the establishment.

The Owner takes his responsibility towards the advancement of the arts very seriously. He is also a thoroughgoing sadist, and enjoys a bit too much his work in quality control. He maintains a side room just for that purpose, where more serious punishment is administered for work that does not meet his high standards. Patrons may also use the room for expressing their own disapproval, or, for an extra fee, have The Owner express it for them.

By deliberate design, the punishment room not only lacks sound-proofing, but has windows that open into the work area as a warning to any poets who may be slacking off. Of course, there is always the chance that the occasional weak-stomached writer will be distressed and distracted by the screams bursting forth from the next room, but over time they learn to control their reactions. The desk chairs are hard, and not kind to newly-caned bottoms.

There is one desk set slightly apart from the others. Here sits and slaves the poet belonging to The Owner himself. Other than the location of her little workplace, only two obvious characteristics distinguish this writer from the others. One is that, in addition to the chain from her ankle to the desk, there is a choke chain around her neck which is attached to the back of the chair. The second is that she must work naked.

Periodically, The Owner will take his pet poet off to a private room for instruction and correction. Her screams are heart-rending, but she always returns to her desk with head held high and a glow on her tear-stained face. She sits gingerly for the next day or two, but her production always improves.

She has no complaints and considers herself lucky. They say “You gotta suffer if you want to sing the blues.” The same can be said of writing poetry.

Certainly, The Owner is in total agreement.


Anonymous said...

this was wonderful! i loved it; it conjured up lots of images of old factories, but instead of scary machinery, the little desks and chained poets. i think as a child i often had fantasies about this sort of thing-- being kept under some condition where i was one of many mistreated, but where i was singled out with some kind of special distinction-- a distinction that was both positive and challenging. anyway, loved it. thank you!

oatmeal girl said...

Thanks, Meg. I'm glad you liked it - and that I accidentally plugged into old fantasies!

Perhaps next door is a music sweatshop. Maybe I would have practiced piano more as a child if I had been spanked every day I missed a session. (I was never spanked at all. I was a Spock baby, and my parents didn't believe in it. of course I turned out highly neurotic anyway, but that's another story...)

oatmeal girl said...

The philosopher doesn't comment publicly. I hope he doesn't mind my sharing this:

"I like it kitten. Dickensian and Kafkaesque, with a definite hint of Roissy."

Sounds rather like a bizarre sort of wine description...

Ellen said...

I don't comment very often, actually I'm not sure if I ever have, but I've been reading now for...a long time. Dunno why I haven't ever commented before.

I love this, I think it's beautiful and clever and almost a little funny. Plus it's hot. Good job

Anonymous said...


thank you,

Paul said...

Oatmeal, very good with a great edge.
I'm glad that your owner approves.
Warm hugs,