Featured Poet: Grayson Del Faro
Issue 11's featured poet is Grayson Del Faro, whose deft erasure ad2021.docx / ap2021.docx takes an incisive look at work through its own alienating language. Join us as we discuss the piece's place in a larger project, the long tradition of labor poetry, and what we're doing to survive.
Jacqueline Boucher: You mentioned in your submission that this piece is part of a larger project with similar themes. Can you speak to your process, and to that larger project?
Grayson Del Faro: Yes, “ad2021.docx / ap2021.docx” is part of a series called Poems for the Unemployed. I had just moved to Barcelona in 2019 and didn’t even have a job to lose when the pandemic hit. So when things started to open up again in 2020, I threw myself into the job hunt. It felt more like throwing myself down the stairs. Every day. For six months.
I spent so much time staring at job ads that I started to see through them. They’re all smoke and mirrors. They’re desperately trying to convince us that their companies are important and their opportunities are special. Or worse, that they’re cool. I wondered what would be underneath if I tried to peel away the bullshit. I tried to find the truth in them, both hard and funny. But if you squint at a job ad, with its blocks of text and bulleted lists, it can already look a bit like a poem. Of course there’s also poetry there.
So for this series, I’ve taken several job ads (a tiny selection of all those to which I’ve actually, unfortunately applied) and blacked them out clarify what they’re actually saying. The results are pretty comical. Then I wrote “applications” to each one, mimicking their shapes and leaving spaces to insert their words, the way we try to fit each application to its ad, sometimes to better success than others. The poems describe my experiences of work and the small joys and massive humiliations that came with them. With “ad2021.docx / ap2021.docx” as the final poem in the series, I’ve finally allowed the advertiser the least amount of words, the least power, and allowed myself the most. It’s liberating.
JB: Work and the worker have a deep-held place in poetic traditions around the globe. Why does the marriage of poetry—an artform whose commercial viability is both limited and a subject of debate—and labor work as well as it does?
GDF: Well, I’m glad to hear it’s working well! One of the main reasons I’m personally so attracted to poetry is that it is one of the art forms that best resists commercialization and, ultimately, capitalism. I say this ideologically, of course, because when it comes time to pay the rent, this resistance is slightly less attractive.
Although poetry has recently been relegated to mostly academic circles, it has traditionally been an art form of the people. It needs no materials or training to produce it or to appreciate it. Anybody can write a poem. I think this egalitarian element is the main reason it has sprung up from or alongside socialist and labor movements throughout history. Like so many other things that are either hoarded or gatekept by the elite in our society, poetry is supposed to be for everybody.
It’s also one of the reasons I wanted to write this series. I was looking for the perspective that I could share with the most people. The way I see it, we were all born into this late capitalist hellscape and we’ll all probably die in it. Whether you agree with me or not, both work and looking for work are probably still things we have in common. We don’t all know the same work, but we all know work. So, despite their less conventional forms, I hope that the content in these poems is accessible to anyone who might read them. Even if your boss never made you crawl into a dumpster, I think you get me. We’ve all had that boss, right? Right. Because if misery loves company, work is a crowd.
JB: What are you doing to keep yourself afloat during [insert vague hand gestures] all of this?
GDF: Aside from the obvious escapism of food, films, and video games, poetry has helped. Writing poems provided an outlet for my frustrations and reading poems has been a stimulus for positive thinking. It’s nice just to feel excited about something. Even so, I honestly still don’t feel very afloat. I don’t think many of us do. If anything, I’m being kept afloat by others, to whom I’m very grateful. I’ll gladly take the assumption that I’m doing it myself as a compliment, however. So thank you.
JB: What are you reading right now that excites you?
GDF: I usually have one book of poetry and one of prose on the go at a time. Currently, the poetry book is Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar, which is curiously gorgeous. The prose is Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket. He was a huge influence on me as a kid, and as Daniel Handler, his adult fiction is some of my very favorite. His new work as Snicket is as charming, clever, and delightfully philosophical as ever.
What I’ve read recently and keep coming back to is Fjords, Vol. II by Zachary Schomburg. His Fjords, Vol. I was one of the few books I took with me when I first moved to Europe in 2014 and I’ve dragged it around and lent it out and returned to it in times of stress and confusion since then. The tiny surreal worlds in his poems are so strangely comforting to me, so it’s been a joy to discover new ones in the same multiverse as these others I’ve visited and revisited for years. I also recently finished Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva, which not only had me thinking, it had me laughing so obnoxiously in public places that strangers looked at me with disapproval. I really, really needed that.
JB: What’s your favorite bone?
GDF: The first one that comes to mind is the skull of the arctic fox. Before Catalonia, I lived in Iceland for several years where I worked off and on at the Arctic Fox Center. In addition to the exhibits, we actually had fox skulls scattered all over the office. Like most skulls, they’re surprisingly, impossibly small. That such hardened survivors keep their brains in such delicate little cases is a thing of wonder. I guess that applies to all of us too.