Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Kwame Dawes
An Introduction

Fusion is an opportunity to create dialog across geographical spaces and cultures through the sharing of art and writing. It represents an effort to create bridges between the many silos that separate us, and to do so by asking writers to think about the very things that connect us and distinguish us in different parts of the world.

I met David Prater at the Struga Nights Poetry Festival in Macedonia last year. We hit it off, enjoying the peculiar jokes about writers and the business of writing. But when he pointed me to the project he had been working on, the Cordite Web Magazine, I knew I wanted to have some pretext to collaborate with David and Cordite.

This inaugural edition of what we have ambitiously slated as a monthly web special shows in no uncertain ways just what this kind of collaboration can generate. With a rich and varied body of poems from Sydney, the evocative art of Australian artist Michelle Ussher, and the wonderful insights into the secret life of jobs done by poets, this first Fusion is an engaging meditation on work.

Prairie Schooner has, over eighty-five years, managed to create a fascinating archive of American letters that we have enjoyed digging into to find poems about work. The poems featured here represent poems published in the last few decades by some of the most recognizable American poets and by gifted poets who are still lesser known. The guest artist, Watie White, is from Omaha, and his amazing woodprints are remarkable for their technical mastery and interpretive force.

In August, I moved to a city with an unemployment rate of four percent. I left a city with a nine percent unemployment rate. In Haiti, the unemployment rate is said to be as high as forty percent. There are places where everyone is working and no one is working. But we are all working, all doing what we have to do to eat, to have shelter, to keep the wolf from the door. Work consumes our life. These percentages are deceptive—there is something about the body’s basic existence that speaks to work, to exertion, to labor.

As early in the mythos of our existence as seemed reasonable we were being put to work. Then, work served some curious purposes: something to do, the making of what never existed before, a reason to take a break—to stop and rest. According to that story, God worked steadily, relentlessly, to make the universe. Curiously, God gave no reason for doing it. The first time he arrived at the need for a reason was long after the real work of creation was done: seeing Adam alone, he created first animals and then Eve to finish the work he started. But why work? God gives no reason. Why create the world? No reason.

But Adam works to accomplish a task. He must name things. He must organize things. He must categorize things. He must have mastery over things. Thing is, he does not ask why. He just does what he is told to do.

Yet when things go south in Eden, at last work takes on a character, a rationale. It is a curse. By the sweat of our brows will we eat bread. Since we must eat, then to do so we must work. And for the woman, her own peculiar struggle will be the labor of childbirth. Where the brow's sweat will generate food to sustain life, a woman's labor will create life.

Bob Marley, explaining why he did not fight the split of the Wailers, cited work. He asked what he would tell his son when he needed a school uniform. He said he could not tell him that he was too lazy to tour or just did not want to go international. No. He would tour, he would work, work, every day, even if it meant working on the nightshift with a forklift from am to pm.

The writer's constant bane is to assure people that she is working when she writes. Most people, even writers, would call what they do real work. The headaches are twofold. One works to eat bread. Too often writing does not produce enough to help the writer eat bread. Starving artists still exist. If it does not pay, how can it be work? And then there is the matter of the use of art. Without cash to show for it, the world finds it hard to value the business of writing as work. Movie stars work because they make big money. Then there is the matter of pleasure. After all, writers trade in delight and what one may crudely and inadequately call entertainment. Yet it is hard to deny the labor of writing, the art of the thing, the craft, the effort, and the ultimate product.

In many ways this Fusion project is the wonderful product of the labor of art. Somehow the poets and artists have given us a chance to celebrate the idea of work and to contemplate its meaning to the human condition. I hope you enjoy this curious and delightful marriage of art and labor.

Kwame Dawes
Photo Credit: Don J. Usner