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A Philippic

February 29, 2012

by Susan Gubernat

after Phil Levine

Kids, you don’t know what sweat is.
You with your trust fund BMWs.
I never bought a car Detroit didn’t make.
So there, you whiners. And what
did you come out to the desert to see?
A man, like other men. I can’t baptize
you into poetry. You have to put in
your time: the Coke factory, a chicken farm.
Your sleep has to be dreamless
and earned. Even then, you’ll still
have your pedicures, your French
fountain pens. But where do you think
this hard callous of mine came from?
Not from a writing instrument,
I can assure you. It was years on the line
when I came home wasted yet teeming
with verses. I sat up all night, my No. 2
lead pencil (made in America)
filling the blue lines of a cheap notebook
with priceless stuff. Everyone
in my family was an artist manqué.
And it was left to me to ventriloquize
a whole silent generation’s voices.
The 50’s, yeah, they pretty much stank.
If you didn’t land on a list of some kind
you were a coward. Or worse. Maybe
you spent too much time in Montmartre
instead of sweating it out here, baking in a heartless heartland,
cooling in the shadows cast by the abandoned
steel plants and metal silos, empty, impotent
chambers of the post-industrial US of A.

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Susan Gubernat’s first book of poems, Flesh, won the Marianne Moore Prize and was published by Helicon Nine Press. Her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Cortland Review, Michigan Quarterly and Pleiades, among others. Her second book manuscript, Shaggy Parasol, has been a runner-up or finalist in such contests as the National Poetry Series, the Dorset Prize, the FIELD prize, the New Issues Green Rose Prize, and the Philip Levine Prize. She has held artist residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Virginia Center for the Arts, and the Millay Colony. Gubernat is an opera librettist (Korczak’s Orphans; composer Adam Silverman) and an Associate Professor at California State University, East Bay, where she and her students have launched a new national literary magazine, Arroyo Literary Review, focusing on, but not limited to, writers of the Bay Area.

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