Four years ago, I came home from my part-time job as an adjunct professor in the middle of a weekday afternoon, and my husband of four years was sitting outside on the back patio smoking a Marlboro. He had just lost his job of eight years as an architect with a local Dallas firm. They were downsizing in the blackening economy that had begun to gather as stories on the nightly news like sullen thunderheads. Soon enough, for sale signs began to dot our neighborhood and many others like it. Many houses stand vacant now, their yards bedraggled, their windows smudged and empty. Our home is only a year or so away from the same fate.
We were lucky in that we had some savings to fall back on, but each year that money disappears into a mortgage we can no longer afford on our current salaries and to pay off credit card bills left over from the thoughtless years of acquisition that dog us still. Today, my husband sells cars on commission for less than half his old salary. All the full time jobs at the college where I still work as a part-time adjunct are gulped down by PhD's who can't find a position at a more prestigious college or university. We're pretty much in the shitter financially, and our future prospects look dim. Of course, we can't afford health insurance.
HOW HAS THE GREAT RECESSION AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
The worst that will happen? We will shortly lose our house when our savings finally run out, sell our possessions (except for books), and move into an apartment. The best that has happened? I covet few material comforts these days and have learned to appreciate what is truly important, and it isn't a new car every three years; it certainly isn't a house with a pool, a new cashmere sweater, or the latest cell phone. What is important is to know that my own worth as a wife, a mother, a friend, a teacher, and finally, as a respected writer, is not tied into some cultural construct that depends on envisioning myself as member of a moneyed class. I am free to simply be me.
I have never written more poetry or with as much power as I have in the last two years. The acceptance of possibly losing just about everything in the material world has concentrated my vision in amazing ways and inspired me to reach a level of creativity I hadn't known was possible in my more comfortable, upper-middle-class days. My first chapbook has just been accepted for publication, and I have had more journal acceptances in the last two years than rejections. There is joy even in loss.
This blossoming of my creative side does not mean I'm not afraid for the world my sons will inherit. I am. It doesn't mean I don't care about class inequity in this increasingly lopsided society. I do. But sinking into genteel poverty has encouraged me to live a more vivid, satisfying life of the mind, with poetry as its end product, and I can't help but find some solace in that unanticipated and happy outcome.
PLEASE SHARE A POEM(S) ADDRESSING YOUR GREAT RECESSION EXPERIENCE:
2008, What I Wanted
I wanted it to be 2007, before my husband lost
his white collar and our nest egg broke its shell against
the blind windows of Wall Street. I wanted not to feel
the clench in my guts every time the bills came due.
I wanted to believe my son, almost grown, would head
to college and enjoy the life my parents provided me.
It is 2011. My son works overnights. Mornings at seven,
I hear him climb the stairs toward his day's rest.
If I am quick, I may catch a trace of his boy's smile,
testing itself against an older, stranger's face.
(First published in Wilderness House Literary Review, January 1, 2012. Forthcoming in my chapbook, Final Notes from Naked Mannekin Press, 2012)
ABOUT THE POET:
JP Reese has work published or forthcoming in over forty print and online journals. Reese is a poetry editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact (connotationpress.com) and THIS Literary Magazine (thiszine.org). Reese's chapbook, Final Notes, will be published by Naked Mannekin Press in 2012. Her published work can be read at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty (http://www.tumblr.com/blog/jpreese).