Larry Kearney was born in Brooklyn in 1943. Publications include Dead Poem (White Rabbit), Five (Tombouctou), Kidnapped (Foot), Oz and Damaged Architecture (Smithereens), Streaming (Trike/O Books), Passion, Transmission, and The Only Available Substance/Please Keep My Word (with Sarah Menefee) from Worm in the Rain Publications, a personal press through which he has published a large number of titles.


Lathe hand, Kearney Engineering

Draftsman, Kearney Engineering

Brooklyn Public Library

Postal worker


Architectural model-maker

Machinist, Franklin Machine Works

Power Room installer, Western Electric

Postal worker

Editor, Sierra Club


House painter

Knife-case maker


Truck driver

Manager, David Wold International


Desktop Publisher, Nadja

Correspondent, Latin American Trade Finance

Teacher, New College

Teacher, Dunham Academy for Gifted Students

My father was working class independent. In the thirties he’d organized a strike and while everyone had supported the action, no one turned up on the line. He was a tool and die-maker and designed and produced numerous machines for Naval Research and the chemical thermometer industry, among others. He ran a one man shop, except for me, and in bidding on jobs filled out forms that asked whether he had five hundred employees or less.

He was disappointed that I didn’t want to go into the business, and felt I had a certain talent for it. I could have pointed out that the books he read to me, and the stories he told me, and the fact that he once sat on the side of my bed in the dark and told me that he’d always wanted to be a writer and live in San Francisco, had something to do with the way my mind was. But the topic never came into the open, and he acquiesced gracefully to what I chose to do.

When I say he was working class I mean that as a complete definition. He had no desire to move up in social status. All he wanted to do was be the best at what he did and be paid for it appropriately. He found that being the best at what he did, and solitary, didn’t automatically translate into appropriate pay. As a matter of fact, it was something of a drawback. He struggled all his life with the middle-men, and the glad-handers.

He was literate, and particularly well-read in history, and he once told me that the reason he didn’t argue politics with the people in our building was ‘you can’t argue with people who don’t read.’


We're so pleased to announce that responses from Amber DiPietra, Steve Benson, and an anomyous contributor are now up on the Poetic Labor Project's blog. To download a pdf of all three, please click here. We're grateful for these responses, which continue the conversation around poetics and labor that was the subject of the gatherings in the East Bay last Labor Day. As part of our commitment to continuing that conversation, please stay tuned for monthly updates with new content.

We want to open the space to as many people as would like to join - your comments and provocations are welcome. If you've got a more extended set of thoughts about any of the new writings, or the original presentations archived from the event, please feel free to submit those to: A special thanks to Andrew Kenower for designing the PDF and to Dan Thomas-Glass for original artwork. Thanks for your interest and solidarity!


from five o'clock: SLOPE's daily weather report for March 2011
Labor, Poetry & Professionaliztion: pastiche of journal entries

I am thinking about professionalization, labor and poetry. How the counterpoint echos off each of these. Yet, these caverns find themselves pressured together, by little quakes, by life’s demander/s and other bandits: These are the attempts to crumble them into fluidity. If this essay had a title it would be: stealing time.

I work four jobs: part-time permeates every move I perform. Today it is sunny and almost too hot, a reprieve from the rain dumping on this coast and my hair and the news is reporting on radiation floating. I worry about getting sun stained; I wish I had my lover’s skin; I realize the privilege in this thought, which also feels.

Part-time afterschool program coordinator, part-time administrator, part-time poetry editor, part-time bartender and part-time lover. I live 300 miles away from my lover. The inability to dedicate myself to anything drips off the walls of these caves onto my skin, which can’t help but absorb. Yet, dedication (investment) is what I seek in each job. The economy of investment, its exchange, makes it beautiful between lovers, but despondent on a large scale and rarely beautiful at a job. Though, these jobs do want to be a part of this beauty, even if they are subject to the same imaginary-dollar-house. It is this nuance and intention that causes my feet to trip over themselves, that causes me to over-invest and therefore, under-invest in each cave. Like when you write/ read something so determinedly good that it renders its opposite as clearly as the intended essence. I realize that failure also feels. I picked these positions because they were the best to me and the best for me. “The Best” is a vague qualifier, as lazy in practice as it is in writing or use.

Are my caves the best because they allow me to funnel my unrelenting need for labor into a category of professionalization, a need resulting in my class and upbringing? A need which connects me to disparate family? Did my class and upbringing fool me? I am not special in thinking this and my generation is not unique in feeling it. I have had fourteen jobs since I was 14, which is also when I started working. It’s like that Tee-Shirt made in Hawaii or somewhere: “QUIT YOUR JOB/BUY A TICKET/FALL IN LOVE/ NEVER RETURN”

I started reading a piece that told me ellipses were an ethical gesture because they indicated a missing text. This creates a culture that is embarrassed to use the text, I thought. Culpability must also extend past my writing into a utility driven self-reflexivity. Yet, I create permissions. Permissions we create. What I am trying to say is that culpability can, and perhaps should, be the fluid that forges the flood: the flood that cleans or damages anyone’s caves. Perhaps, the damage will be to those houses of professionalization, labor and poetry. 


Amber DiPietra works as a poet, a disability advocate, and a somatic writing teacher for folks in the disability community--not necessarily all in that order.

Please imagine the proceeding sections as non-linear, rounded confluences—my relationship to work/poetics as Venn diagram. For me, there is no longer any real separation between the various kinds of work I must do and my poetics. This is both a beneficial alignment and a chiasmus of energies. Fractal symmetries that sort of shove into each other while trying to surface.

Please click here to listen to an audio version of this contribution.


The short answer to “What do you do?” is, “disability advocate”. Though, often, it is easier to respond with, “disability service provider” because people can interpret that as case manager or social worker and that makes sense to them. The longer, more accurate answer, is that I work for the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, where I am absolutely not a social worker (via the old model of managing someone else’s choices and determining abilities based on bureaucratic qualifiers). Independent living centers exist nationally in most major cities. They are government-mandated, largely government-funded nonprofits that serve as places where people with disabilities can go to get information about resources, such as assistive technology, support groups, accessible arts programs, alerts about proposed legislation impacting disability issues. ILCs are where people can get help with navigating social services like personal or in home care, low income housing options, employment accommodations, etc. My work also requires me to keep up with the politics around healthcare, genetic testing, civil rights and technological innovations.

It requires me to be a constant communicator—either via phone, in-person, or increasingly, via social networking—since one of the biggest issues facing people with disabilities is the divide that still exists in terms of social integration. But most of all, this work requires me to sit with people and envision outcomes. People come to me with a mass of reality and their language around it—a new diagnosis or years of living with nagging, stupid issues that crop up. Things like: “landlord won’t let me have a ramp and now three steps keep me prisoner in my apartment”, or “I need to take Goldie to class on my shoulder because she can talk to the voices while I take notes for my exam”, or “I go to job interviews and as soon as I walk in the door with my white cane, the interviewer sounds plastic”. Primarily, mine is a job of collaborative making. A kind of peer counseling poiesis. I listen, co-brainstorm, share stories about folks in similar situations. I take the language that is given to me and give it back to the person who has come to see me—either by offering a way to prioritize around the issue, reframing options, or simply emoting in a way that is authentic and carries new momentum.


As a “peer mentor” at my independent living center, it is hard to know how much or how little to do, how best to facilitate a space for the client’s envisioning process. Especially when we are stand together against such gaping holes in community support systems. There are appeals to file, requests to fill out, bureaucratic languages that must be worked within. Then I go home and I swirl these interactions around in my head for days at a time, trying to hit upon some creative suggestion I can offer in each individual situation. This “taking it home with me” is not really required as part of my paid work, but it is the part that makes me a poet within the context of the work. I have wanted to push that impulse further and I have wanted to combine my paid work as an independent living center worker with my work as one who writes poems. I have also wanted to bring in body-work, the hardest most basic work. I wanted to create a single space to function as a poet, a body-worker and a disability advocate, so I have been experimenting with Write To Connect. A creative writing class for folks in the disability community.


I ran out of cartilage over 25 years ago and all of my bones, including the vertebra in my neck, have been grinding to a halt since then. I am 32 years old. I have bone spurs, tendon impingements, and frozen joints. If I want to maintain any freedom of movement for the next, hopefully, several decades, I must work every day, slowly, tediously, to keep some modicum of space between my internal moving parts. This means undoing the time spent working by swimming, sitting in warm waters, lying down, making dull circles with ankles, shoulders, wrists, etc. It also means massage, acupuncture, and energy work. And Art workouts! (This embarrasses me, to go into all this, because I feel like I have said this stuff on the internets before. I am kind of phobic about being repetitive, because being repetitive in writing seems to mimic somatic constriction I experience all the time. However, it also tends to loosen gently, methodically, which is absolutely the point.)

All of this body-work requires a huge amount of money, time, and attention. I give far less of any of these resources to the body-work, than I give to other types of work. That’s because I get bored, because it is invisible, because it feels indulgent, because it leads me into claustrophobic self-narratives about the nature of how I do or do not move, because it seems simple and I haven’t figured out how to plug my somatic machinations into my writing in a way that is totally interesting and accurate. I think a sure bet is to find a way to offer the body-work to others. To have an energy work practice I offer out of my apartment, for instance. Currently, I’m confused about the apprenticeship process for that—and how I really feel about it as a fair exchange. If you know of an energy worker/poet who could help me legitimize this for myself, please send me an email. Most days, I want to be a practitioner of some unquantifiable transformations for and with others, more than I want to be a poet.


Steve Benson teaches himself and willing subjects whatever he notices he's learning, day by day.  He's written orally, on paper, and otherwise, under a number of discrete and indiscreet conditions.

Working for myself, in collaboration

I’m a licensed psychologist. I work in an office I rent in a small town. As a psychotherapist, I’ve been variously and spontaneously hiding less, getting more real in it, including not knowing, in the moment, what anything means or what it’s good for. My client and I have hopes, but these are subject to change. So it’s close in some ways to how I work as a writer. Both situations let me be sincere and ethical. I get to decide how candid to be and when and how and why to say what I might later regret.

I get to try out roles and sides of myself, interact with diverse real and imaginary interlocutors, and explore my attention to language in its dynamic and uncertain action. I sometimes think of theories and precedent ideas associated with experience or reading, but I don’t have a stable plan or a rationale for making one. There are ways I limit or block myself, which generally have to do with trying not to be tiresome, disrespectful, or hurtful. I get to care, and there are experiences of learning and intimacy I wouldn’t find any other way. The more serious and earnest I find it, the more fun it is.

I couldn’t feel as resilient, I wouldn’t have as much fun, I wouldn’t experience my own integrity or invention anywhere near as much, if I weren’t self-employed. I could make lots more money in a hospital or a city job, with my degree, but the scale and role I have here allows me to recognize passion and happiness sporadically every day. I limit professional working hours to about 40 a week. I don’t let the business grow. In my sixties, I don’t expect to retire; I’ll have two children in college later this decade. My independence allows me to treat people as equals and to improvise my orientation to whatever I decide to say or do.

In my experience, this job is “artisanal,” in the meaning Andrew Joron applied to work, in his Labor Day 2010 talk – unquantifiable – qualitatively evaluated – and it’s ephemeral, like performance work, leaving only “the record” as document of what’s transpired. Like the “proletarian” Andrew describes, I have “nothing to sell but [my] labor,” one of activating relations through speaking and occasional writing. I have control over what happens to the profit I am making and lots of say over my working conditions: this is precious.

My father’s work was all in the advertising industry in Manhattan. He was gone 12-14 hours five weekdays and often holed up in the study working Sundays. He seemed pressured. Excessive smoking and drinking led to death by retirement age, debility and lost income before that. He missed out on relationships with his children. His career set a negative precedent we have variously reacted against.