Sara Larsen is a poet who has worked as a bar waitress, grocery check-out girl, record store clerk, clothing retailer "personal stylist", office receptionist and, most currently, as an executive assistant.
every day i travel between the poles of commodity.
the BART train i ride to my executive assistant job in the city travels underground between the two money centers of oakland and san francisco - that is, the port of oakland and the san francisco financial district. at these locations twice a day, every weekday, i disappear underground and underwater and reappear in two distinctly different spaces of capitalism: from the fourth largest container port in the US, where all of our goods ship in and ship out for distribution in the global maze, to the financial power center of our major cosmopolis. under the bay, under the approximately 15 feet of salt water and fish and crustaceans, as well as pollutants and oil and trash, shooting through a semi-lit tube, i flicker in and out of monetized culture (yet still permeably abreast of ipads, ipods, iphones, kindles, blackberries, etc), on my way to work.
over dinner one night recently, i asked david if he knew of any good books on the subject of vocation. although david said that he wondered the same thing before, really, he said, to his knowledge, there aren't any.
vocation is a religious word at it's core, vocat in latin "to be called". in greek, the term kletos means "calling", and is related to "ekklesia", meaning to be called out from the crowd and into the body of the church.
i tend to experience poetry as a vocation. it is a calling that i must answer. it is not related to goods or services, and it's certainly not related to paying my bills. it is not related to possession. it simply MUST HAPPEN.
in our conversation about vocation, david pointed out something obvious about it, and yet something that i hadn't really given much thought to: that the calling - in this case, poetry, if we accept it as a calling - begs the question: who or what calls?
this is not the case in employed life. i'm am not called to show up in front of a bunch of emails and meetings everyday. not at all. but, as a friend related that ezra pound once said, and this is somewhat out of context, "a poets gotta eat".
i decided a long time ago that i never wanted to function as a poet with a capital "P" in an institution, that this would be problematic for both my work and my disposition. i've always preferred my poetic work to take place in what i fancifully imagined could be a radical space, outside and against the hypocrisy, demands and expectations of dominant culture. for the sake of time, i will take for granted that most people in this room can imagine, and doubtless have experienced, the many things i'm referring to here when i talk about the hypocrisy, demands and expectations of dominant culture.
hence, up to this point in my life, i've always taken to a personal philosophy that dictates that the work that i do for a living, which i considered for a while as "unrelated" to my writing, would be secondary to the work that i do as a poet and culture worker.
employed labor, after all, is most often dominated by a strict hierarchy in which, admittedly, one can find moments of permeability (the WIG is one of them). most of us in employed labor have a "boss" that we answer to, most of us must dress, act and manipulate perceptions in order to stay employed. employed labor is often not creative or innovative, it's about following basic social and institutional rules.
the majority of us aren't employed in a "community", whatever multiple definitions or problems that word may connote, and the majority of us, unfortunately, are not working as part of a cooperative. the majority of us work in institutions and/or corporations.
despite my employ in an institution, that labor i must enact in order to feed, shelter, and clothe myself, to go out to dinner, to have drinks after this event, to dye my hair, to enjoy a cup of coffee with my book on weekend mornings - despite my employ in an institution, i can still say FIRMLY, i despise institutions and especially corporations, in general, and absolutely prefer the communal radicality of whatever it is that a subculture community makes.
to be a poet in our culture is to do work, which many of us often refer to as our "second job", and that work is done "underground". i think of this when i am literally underground and underwater, transtubing between the port of oakland and the san francisco financial district.
ekklesia: i know that what i am part of here is an ekklessia, a calling out from the crowd and into the poetic body. the poetic body includes the poem itself, but it also includes this room, what we all, with multiple addendums, call "The Community". although i agree that it's important to do so, i'm not going to spend time right now interrogating what the permeable borders of community means…we will do this together later, i'm sure, as we have in the past…i just want to say, there is a body here, a communal body, and in addition to the lone, private work of much writing, and in contrast to the necessity of employed labor, i feel called to it.
i find my work life and my writing life in a subtle yet overwhelming dialectic. this dialectic reigns over my waking life, and sometimes in my dreams as well.
i mentioned that there was a time when i considered the work that i do for a living as secondary and separate to the work that i do as a poet and culture worker. now i can see that is not the case, that it is never the case. 40 hours a week at a business desk is 40 hours a week of consciousness. 10 hours a week commuting is 10 hours a week of jostling my solo interrogation into the body of this poetic ekkessia with the bodies of commerce, the bodies of poverty, the bodies of necessity, and the very real, tender bodies of everyone around me.
on a daily basis, i ride through that dark tunnel between the port of oakland and the san francisco financial district. i disappear there for approximately 4 minutes. this is poetry. the motion through the interstice, the underground, the dislocated place.