The Company Store

Posted: March 4, 2011 in Capital Slam, Poetry
Tags: , ,

First off, thanks to Sterling Lynch and the Ottawa Arts Newsletter for calling a recent post of mine “the best Ottawa arts blog post of the last two weeks”. It is nice to see people are reading! (Well, I actually get stats the show how many people are reading, but still…).

Thanks Sterling!

CONTEXT: February 2011

February is always a turning point month with Capital Slam as it is the first month where we create priority lists to ensure that everyone who needs to slam to qualify for the CapSlam semi-finals is able to do so. That also generally means a temporary hiatus from slamming for me. I have already slammed enough to qualify and I am pretty much guaranteed a slot in the semis, so my attention turns to writing new poems and running the show.

This year there is asomething a little different for me though… self-imposed pressure.

In 2007, I had only one goal: qualify for the semis so I could get a track on the CD. So, when I finished the semis in 4th (and duplicated it during the finals and made the team), I was floating on air. I never expected it.

In 2008, I now knew what it was like to be on a team and I really wanted to do it again. There was a bunch of new poets (do names like OpenSecret, Poetic Speed and Marcus Jameel ring a bell?), so I tried not to hold out too much hope.

I made the team again (as team alternate).

In 2009, I was in about the same position. The semi-finals didn’t go well, but the finals went VERY well so I was lucky enough to be part of the team (as alternate) when Capital Slam won the CFSW Slam Championships (then that team became the Recipe).

In 2010, the festival was coming to Ottawa and I was Slam Master. That meant I pulled myself out of the semi-finals since I couldn’t be on a team anyway. I question whether I WOULD have made the team, since I would have to have scored better than Brandon Wint to do so.

That brings us to this year. I have yet to not be part of the CapSlam team, other than the year I stepped aside. So, is there pressure for me to make the team? You can’t be on it every year, right?

Of course not… but man, I really want to make it. Do I tie an unhealthy level of self-worth to my slam scores? Yeah, I’ll wear that. I don’t need to win every time (in fact, I rarely win), but I feel the need to be in the ‘conversation’. Yet I think when people try to guess who will be on the team, they never think of me. This goes for every year.

They think of me as the Slam Master.

I am okay with that because I LIKE being the Slam Master and I think I do a damned good job of it.

But I am still a poet first and once again, I want to prove that to everyone. (And by everyone, I really mean me.)

So, I am writing like mad, trying to make sure I have good poems to choose from for the semis and (hopefully) the finals. I prefer doing it this way so I am not just writing for the competition, which leads to ‘dishonest’ writing. I write a lot and then (again, hopefully) some pieces will rise out to be the obvious choices to compete with.

Well, they don’t all ‘make the cut’.

This piece came from an odd place. Ruthanne and I were watching an episode of Mad Men that ended with the song ’16 Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and I started singing along.

Now, I can’t sing. At all. I did some musical theatre back int he day, but I was strictly background, doing parts that sat in my ‘meagre’ range. When I sang ’16 Tons’ though, it was RIGHT in my range.

So I started thinking about writing a poem where I could include the chorus. This is that poem.

I don’t think it is a bad poem, but it doesn’t have that little extra something…

    The Company Store

The alarm goes off
And a nation rubs its eyes
And stumbles out of bed
Leaving the arms of spouse/
Lover/sanctum of peace and
Harmony, stripping off
Secret identity to reveal
Our true selves, as defined by
Career.
No? You don’t define yourself
As Waiter, Plumber, Gas Jockey,
Code Monkey, Butcher, Baker,
Candlestick maker?
If not, why do we let
Our work rule our lives?
Our schedule from morning
Alarm off to morning alarm on
Revolves around the time
That is NOT our own
Where you willingly, or
Semi-willingly, or barely
Willingly slice off sections
Of your self
And sautee them in a
Liberal helping of Want and Need
And all of the grey area in between.
Then those pieces are sold off
To benefit someone else’s
Bottom line.

If you think assigning
Scores to poetry is crazy
Realize that we assign scores
To your very existence
Every payday.
Punchclock to punchclock
Takes the bulk of the day.
Punchclock to punchclock
Where we are commidified
And prostituted as completely
As any Mustang Ranch
Lady in waiting.
The saddle is cinched in
And they ride you until
You are good for nothing
But glue.

“But I LIKE my job”
You say – some of you,
And good for you,
Though ask yourself if you
Would be doing the same thing
If you weren’t trading it for
Hearth and home?
What would you do if you
Weren’t valued in terms of
Dollars and cents,
Groceries and rents,
Graded and valued by your
Economic impact
Instead of humanity extract.

And why is it that the more
You are paid, the better you
Are treated?
It is like the price of
Self-respect has been reversed.
As you move up the pay scale you
Hand in the short-handled
Shovels and coloured
Paper hats.
Trade a life of stressing
About money for a life of
Stressing about money
And the illusion of
Freedom as the golden
Handcuffs can hold as tightly
As the iron shackles of
Desperation
And any bird can tell you
That a cage lined with
Gold and silk still won’t
Let you fly free.

When love and art
And friendship and
Parenting and joy and
ANYTHING motivated by
Who you are instead of
What you are worth
Is relegated to your
SPARE TIME
We know that we have
Created a life that
Is prioritized for you
And that we might as well
Hang a sign around our necks
With a price per pound
Because true intrinsic value
Has become a myth
But like any good myth it is
Worth holding on tightly
To remind us that maybe,
MAYBE, we can be something
More.
But in the meantime:
“You load 16 tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St.Peter don’t you call me cuz I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the company store.”

““““““““““““““““`
Still writing… more to come…

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Toni says:

    well i like it and would enjoy hearing it even more i’m sure.
    its funny, i totally ‘get’ it, but am, i think, lucky enough to not be living it.
    greg and i are both doing what we want to do.
    it’s tough to teach it to the kids though – work to open lots of doors so that ultimately the choice is yours.
    does that sound a bit too happliy ever after-ish?

  2. rpriske says:

    Not at all.

    There are people who avoid this… as long as you realize how fortunate you are.

  3. Amanda says:

    As soon as I saw the title of this blog, I started humming the song. One of my favorites as a kid, back when I didn’t understand what the words meant. I still like it now, though for different reasons.

    I think it’s a worthy poem, though. Possibly not one you’d want to do for competition straight away, but it might be worth setting it aside for a week or so and coming back to it later? Maybe you’d be able to see what it’s missing then?

  4. […] isn’t going to happen with this one. I am too caught up in it. I have talked earlier about how important this year felt to me. Well, I am not out, but it still kind of feels like I got […]

  5. […] hits came this summer). The post FROM 2011 that was both poetry related and got the most hits was The Company Store… a poem I have never actually […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s