Poet M.L. Liebler editor of the 2011 Michigan Notable Book “Working Words” andÂ cult-writer Ben Hamper who wrote the book’s foreword will do a reading and discuss the new book 7 p.m., Tuesday, January 25 at Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center.
I discussed “Working Words” with Liebler last Friday while he was driving into Hollywood on Sunset Blvd. Liebler was in Los Angeles for an appearance with Moby Grape. Yes, THE Moby Grape. They sing and play, he sings and recites poetry. Here’s what we talked about:
M. L. Liebler told me he has a lot friends. Liebler who has taught English, Labor Studies and the art of the working class at Wayne State University for more than 30 years was not shy in calling upon them for a little something to include in â€œWorking Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking out the Jamsâ€, an anthology of poems, short fiction, memoirs and song lyrics which tell the story of the working class.
The first thing you notice about the book Â is itâ€™s heft, more than 450 pages, just right for the hands of a steelworker or Michael Moore who is one of the contributors. Moore, in a blurb for the book, called it Â â€œinspiringâ€ and said â€œThe book is kind of a spark we need these days.â€
Moore contributed â€œHoratio Alger Must Dieâ€ an excerpt from â€œDude: Whereâ€™s My Country?â€ Moore is one of the scores of authors, poets and songwriters with Michigan ties who routinely pop up in the book, which Liebler says is nearly one-of-a-kind.
Liebler, who edited this impressive collection, said he was inspired by having to Xerox material for his students in a class in Labor Studies he teaches at Wayne State.
â€œThere never was a collection like this and that gave me an idea to compile one.â€
And what a collection he has compiled. There are poets (Amiri Baraka, Stewart Francke); filmmakers (Moore,); Pulitzer Prize Winners (Philip Levine) and novelists (Stephen Crane, Willa Cather).
â€œThere wasnâ€™t anyone I wanted who said no,â€ Liebler said. The dead folk didnâ€™t have that chance.
â€œEverybody, surprisingly and willingly, participated in the process.â€
And everybody would include the likes of Bob Dylan, and Detroiterâ€™s Eminem and Jack White whose lyrics are included in the anthology.
â€œThe guys who I thought would be the most difficult were the easiest.â€
How easy? A friend put him touch with a key Dylan contact and, basically on the spot Liebler said, he was given permission to use anything he wanted.
The result is that three Dylan songs are included in the collection including â€œThe Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.â€ Dylan appears with the lyrics of Detroiterâ€™s Jack White (â€œThe Big Three Killed My Babyâ€) and Eminem (â€œLose Yourselfâ€) along with one of the original working-class ballads, Woody Guthrieâ€™s â€œ1913 Massacreâ€.
There are also selections from the usual suspects such as Walt Whitman and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but they are accompanied with contributions from eminent American literary figures such as Emily Dickinson and Willa Cather and social activists the likes of Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan.
It seems natural that many of Lieblerâ€™s friends are from Michigan and paging through the collection the familiar names of David Marsh, Philip Levine, Jeff Vande Zande, Dudley Randall, Jim Ray Daniels, Lolita Hernandez, Anne Marie Oomen and Stewart Francke leap out.
Some contributorsâ€™ names tug at the cobwebs of memory and you find yourself asking where have I heard that name as you read Diane di Primaâ€™s â€œRevolutionary Letter # 19â€ or Michael McClureâ€™s â€œBeginning With a Line by di Prima.â€
Both are survivors of the beats with bragging rights about their connections with Kerouac and Ginsburg.
Michigan State University Professor Diane Wakoski also holds that candle and contributed â€œThe Butcherâ€™s Apronâ€ which begins â€œRed Stains on the Clean White Bib.â€Â Diane is shown at left.
The 2010 National Book Award Finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell contributed her short fiction piece â€œSelling Manureâ€ and another Michigan finalist Thomas Lynch loaned Liebler â€œthe Undertakingâ€ and famed rock critic and former editor of Creem Magazine David Marsh writes of his recollections growing up in industrialized Pontiac Michigan in the excerpt from â€œFortunate Sonâ€.
Liebler says part of the inspiration for the book comes from his own Detroit area roots.
â€œI come out of the working class. My grandfather was in the 1937 Sitdown strike.
I guess you could say itâ€™s in my DNA.â€
Liebler contributes two of his own poems to the collection: â€œMaking It Rightâ€ and in â€œOn the Scrapâ€ he writes:
â€œJust another Detroit man beaten
Down by the tortured years
Of Depression, World Warsâ€
And then Liebler tips his hat to Woody and Calumet in â€œOn the Scrapâ€ which ends with:
â€œAnd inspiration through their friend Big Annie whose
Courageous Spirit drifted skyward past
a lone childâ€™s picket sign that read
â€œMy papaâ€™s striking for usâ€
In a several page introduction to the collection, Liebler explains how he chose the selections and offers this â€œIt is my hope that readers will think about this rich history and experience the poems, songs and essays in this anthology.â€
Although Liebler is quite humble about compiling this collection of â€œworking wordsâ€ it is not difficult to imagine the work he put into it.
He was even able to pull his friend Ben Hamper out of retirement to contribute a piece from the cult working-class book â€œRivetheadâ€, but also to write the spirited foreword.
In the forward Hamper writes: â€œIâ€™ve always felt that work, unto itself, was only a noble concept in one of those absurd bromides that mothers are fond of reciting.â€
Liebler has compiled a collection of writing on the world of work and workers that could not have come at a better time-itâ€™s the kind of book that will get a â€œshopratsâ€ motorâ€™s running whether they made tacos or Chevies.
Liebler, Hamper and several other contributors to â€œWorking Wordsâ€ will be at Schuler Books & Music, Eastwood Towne Center, 7 p.m. Tuesday January 25.