Fred Voss, photo by Joan Jobe Smith   Photo by Joan Jobe Smith

Fred Voss has been working in factories, steel mills and machine shops for over 20 years, most of it in the aerospace industry. He is now working in a 200-year-old factory in downtown L.A. with men from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, near where the original L.A. river once flowed. The work scene of men sweating and laughing and fighting has gone into his many collections of poetry, the latest being Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls, which will be available for purchase at the reading. He has done five reading tours of the UK, and two programs devoted to his work have been broadcast on national BBC Radio 4.

Making America Strong

We worked nights as machine operators
at Goodstone Aircraft Company, where we made parts
for the Air Force's new bomber, the K-20.
In the parking lot, before work and during lunch break,
we drank and smoked dope and snorted chemicals.
At work we wore sunglasses 
and danced in front of our machines.
We picked up bomber parts and blew through them
as if they were saxophones.
We stalked each other with squirt guns,
screaming and laughing and staggering.
We played with the overhead crane,
hoisting each other's tool boxes to the ceiling.
We unscrewed knobs from machine handles
and threw them around like baseballs.
Our foreman snuck drinks
from the bottle of vodka in his toolbox,
and paced about the shop in a daze.
We respected our foreman.
He'd given us some valuable advice.
"Whatever you do," he'd warned us over and over, "don't join
the Air Force and fly a K-20. It's gonna CRASH.'

2002 Fred Voss

A Threat

My fellow workers and I
operate machines that cut steel blocks.

As the machines cut the steel,
my fellow workers like to stare and laugh at each other.
They are ready to piss on each other's graves.

They fear me.
They call me crazy.
They don't like the poetry I read.
They don't like the paintings I have hung
on the board behind my machine.
They look at me
like they want to cut my balls off.

Tomorrow I think I will start bringing roses to work.
Each day I will stand a rose in a jar of water
on the workbench behind my machine.
I want to really terrify my fellow workers
this time.

2002 Fred Voss

The Stud

He had worked out at Gold's Gym
until he could bench-press 450 pounds.

He walked around the machine shop
waving a 50-pound lead hammer above his head
with one hand,
and his hammer blows
echoed off the machine shop walls
like gunshots.

Then he started talking
about how much he liked to fuck
his boyfriend.

For the first time in the machine shop's 20-year history,
no one was telling any faggot jokes.

2002 Fred Voss