The above is a perennial question for those who romanticize the working class and imagine it as the engine of revolutionary change. In my self-taught demi-ignorance I haven’t seen much to convince me the worker is an artist, but I deal with a very prosaic stratum of workers: metal personnel.
Scrapyards only deal with me because I tickle their whimsy. I have to tell them what I’m doing with some weird thing I dragged from a heap under the eye of their security cameras, and if it makes the scaleman laugh, I might get to take it home. Sometimes they see the sagacity of a design and there’s a glimmer of respect or curiosity. Twice I’ve met or heard of “people like me” in the yard—once it was a guy who ran his boxy 80s Benz on biodiesel and had an operation trucking waste oil upstate, where he got free fuel from a friend who refined it.
You’d think this kind of ingenuity would be more common, but in my experience it’s not. The best a person who bridges art and the structural can hope for is nonplus. “What are you gonna do with that?” has become a greeting. So when I read the below poem, written moreover by a woman (in a decade+ of metalwork, I haven’t seen a woman in a weldshop, much less a scrapyard…unless she was clerking in the weldshop), I was thrilled. The only woman I’ve welded with was one of the best, and she attributed that to women being more patient, FWIW.
The reaction of the gentlemen in the forum where I found the poem I reproduce here typifies the above. This post is not to disparage such a perspective, but to tease the sophists who think that every toiler is a John Chamberlain, Richard Serra or Maxim Gorky.
The Weldor’s Weld
by Sonia Balcer 8/21/82
Wherefore must I wear a mask when
I hold in my hand, the pen
wherewith I write poetry with fire?
How I long to discover the secrets that are hidden
in the theater before me;
to behold the movement of tiny, metal
particles, as they waltz and interlock
in a world within a world;
as they pirouette between the boundaries set
by the fire which frees them to move.
Oh, Lord in heaven! Why are not human eyes made
to see this wonder directly?
Must I always hold this dark glass before me?
Hark! He causes my heart, to see the mystery!
The metals are assaulted, by electric energy,
carried by heaving, heavy wires. In a molten flash,
I see the crystals breaking, and sighing;
the silent order of the solid surface, giving way
to rushing, hotly-radiant tides
that crash together like waves at a beach.
It swirls before me, an intricate dance
which I cannot see, but yet feel inside.
I delight to caress the molten piece
in my heart.
It is inside of me, and I am inside of it.
I slowly feel over and underneath
the hot liquid surfaces.
I move into its every contour, and through
the whole of it.
Bodies of metal, which once were separate;
the boundaries are fading.
It swirls and whirlpools within me-
It is all blurred now, caught
Into a quickly-freezing body of what once
was separate, but now is together,
a single piece.