Sunday, March 02, 2008

To those who make the world work ( an article on "Manufacturing America" by Lisa Beatman)


In the Sunday Globe March 2 ( City Weekly)

To those who make the world work

by Kristen Green

Poet Lisa Beatman, laid off from Ames, wrote "Manufacturing America," a tribute to her former colleagues.

A poet's inspiration can come from just about anywhere. Lisa Beatman found it on the factory floor of Ames Safety Envelope Co., the Somerville business where she worked for four years, teaching English and citizenship classes to immigrant workers.

As she drove to work in the dark to lead a 6 a.m. class for employees who worked the night shift, she said, an image would pop into her head from stories the workers had shared or from moments on the job.

Soon, she was weaving together poems about the employees' experiences in America and at work at the factory. She found fodder for her poetry in the lives of these immigrants from dozens of countries - sorting envelopes at Ames, learning to pronounce English words, working second jobs, and coping with layoffs. In January, the poems were printed in Beatman's second book, a collection called "Manufacturing America," from the Somerville publisher Ibbetson Street Press.

Beatman, who lives in Roslindale, said the book is an ode to workers. She said society's focus on celebrity takes away from workers who create and repair things. "People who make the world work are not given their due," she said.
Beatman's former boss at Ames, human resource manager Linda Hovey, said the poet writes well and seemed to use her experiences at Ames as a thread for some works. "I'm not sure all of the work here is attributed to Ames," said Hovey.
In the poem "First Shift," Beatman writes about a female employee who worked the early shift, often after a night of partying. She describes the way an employee she called Carmen "puts her face back on at 5 a.m." and how she "stumbles out of her dancing heels and into an old pair of Keds" to work the line at the factory.
Fresh-glued folders fly off
the conveyor belt

Catch, inspect, stack and pack
Catch, inspect, stack and pack
Her face dips and sways
She hums under breath
The machine flirts back
Cha cha cha cha cha

In "Rainbow," she tells of a pair of brothers who were fishermen in their hometown, Santiago, Chile, and picked berries on California farms before moving to Boston. The brother she calls Juan was "mute as a lake," she writes, but was able to work the factory line, sorting Ames folders destined for a children's hospital.
His calloused hands, tattooed with paper cuts
sort the folders that will hold each child's story

Watching the company lay off employees prompted her to write the poem "Hack Job," in which she considers the effects of downsizing, writing, "The boss just twists the tourniquet so we don't bleed dry.

one machine operator
on the dole,
two secretaries
shopping with food stamps,
hack hack hack,
three departments

Beatman, 50, doesn't point fingers at Ames and never mentions the company by name in the book. She said she considered writing a poem about the "fat cats" who run the company but couldn't because Ames managers were "lean" and "worked really hard."
"I understand the company is trying to survive and provide jobs for local people," she said.

But seeing employees with whom she had developed close relationships be let go was painful, she said. Eventually she, too, was let go, and her classes were taken over by a local community college.

Doug Holder, founder of Ibbetson Street Press, a small literary publisher, said he found Beatman's perspective unique. Her approach is somewhat unexpected from a poet, he said, and she offers insights about people who are invisible.
"She exposes this little slice of life that most people aren't writing about," he said.

In "Good Bones," Beatman touches on one such slice: the trendy conversions of old factories into condo buildings.

Let's salvage the old signage
and mount it in the foyer.
Yes, maybe sink one of those
antique presses
next to the front gate.
It will be so quaint.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company

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