Michael Gushue

Introduction: Poets in Federal Government Issue

Volume 13:3, Summer 2012

Constantin Cavafy, the patron saint of poets-civil servants, wrote:

“Somehow, these people were a kind of solution.”

But he was not talking about his day job. Cavafy, as far as I know, did not write a single poem about that office in the Third Circle of Irrigation at the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt where he worked for 30 years. He interests lay elsewhere, in classical and byzantine Greece, in lost Time, and in beautiful young men.

On the other hand, Dennis O’Driscoll, a contemporary poet who served in Ireland’s Office of Revenue Commissioners for 40 years, does not (cannot?) keep his office out of some of his poems:

Look around this narrow retreat:
You cannot miss my two steel presses,
One seething with memos, the other hoarding forms;
And a cabinet with deckled piles of correspondence
From banks, corporations, accountancy firms.
I am undisputed Lord of the Files.

(“Serving Time”)

Fortunately for us, the poets you will read here gravitate more to Dennis O’Driscoll’s side. Their poems take us into a particular, and sometimes peculiar, world of work, because they all share—in one way or another—the same employer: the Government of the United States of America. Welcome to the Poets in Federal Government issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly.

I want to thank Kim Roberts for asking me to curate this issue, and thank her doubly for graciously offering to co-edit it. Also a grateful thank you goes out to our editorial assistant Joon Song for easing the burden of editing with his hard work, diligence and organization. I want to especially say thank you to all the poets who submitted work for us to consider. I truly appreciated the opportunity to read the poems, and I regret there wasn’t room for everybody. For those poets in this issue, thank you for agreeing to be part of this little assemblage, a small sampler of what those of us with this particular occupational bifurcation can make.

These poems address the niches and pockets of civil service, the broad swathes of Federal employment experience, and the interstices to be found in work, and work’s aftermath. A. B. Spellman reveals meetings as the excruciation they can be (“The Meeting”). Laura Fargas locates her work in a larger world of meaning (“Erg”). Donald Illich relates a story of escaping the Charon’s boat of commuting (“The Commuter”). J. H. Beall contemplates the Federal landscape’s backdrop to government work (“The “Thinghood” of Monuments). Greg McBride’s speaker shows the points of contact between his desk and an apple orchard (“After Memo-Writing”). Susanne Bostick Allen calls out the Budget Hoe-Down (“Black Hawk Waltz”) while Pamela Murray Winters readies herself for the next disaster (“Shelter In Place”).

These and all the wonderful poets in this Beltway Poetry issue join other federal worker poets—such as Walt Whitman (Department of Justice), Paul Lawrence Dunbar (Library of Congress), Georgia Douglas Johnson (Department of Labor), Liam Rector (National Endowment for the Arts), and Joel Barlow (Department of State)—in yoking together their dual vocations and singing just a bit of the office electric. Read on.



Michael Gushue is the author of two chapbooks of poems, Conrad (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2010) and Gathering Down Women (Pudding House Press, 2007). He is publisher of Beothuk Books and co-publisher of Vrzhu Books, and co-director of Poetry Mutual, an arts incubator. He has been a member of the federal workforce in Washington, DC for 28 years.

Michael Gushue is co-publisher of the nanopress Poetry Mutual, and co-curator of Poetry at the Watergate. His most recent book is I Never Promised You a Sea Monkey (Editorial Pretzelcoatl, 2017), a collaboration with CL Bledsoe. His other books are the chapbooks Pachinko Mouth (Plan B Press, 2013), Conrad (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2010), and Gathering Down Women (Pudding House Press, 2007). His satirical advice column, with CL Bledsoe, How To Even, can be found at: https://medium.com/@howtoeven/. To read more by this author: Michael Gushue: Fall 2005; Michael Gushue: DC Places Issue; Michael Gushue: Audio Issue.