Working Title by Chuck Harp presents a confluence of the integrity and denigration of human spirit in the digital-industrial modernity we reside. Under a less nuanced poet this material would come across as didactic, but what Harp does so well is turn the reading into a rhythmic flow that feels like you are looking through the eyes of a camera on a track which is spinning to focus on different people as it rolls.
The layman, the unknown artist with their own rich history and voice, is celebrated from the start with “The Cheap Seats”, a title reverberant with the influence of Neil Gaiman’s “The View from the Cheap Seats”. It is here that we find the handshake of the reader and the author, unapologetic and outward with influence for this reader I immediately found a home in Harp’s work because of this. Yet, despite the similar titles, the poem racks us fast into the ironic world we reside in which billions of people with hardly any money pay full price to see a film like Avengers Endgame while Disney makes off with even more fuel monetarily and in the minds and hearts of the poor masses cheering on as Captain America proves he is worthy to wield the Hammer of a Norse God. The frustration and anger at this irony is palpable, but not anywhere close to off putting, if commiseration is the focus of many of the early poems in the book then vulnerable humility is the undercurrent that takes mainstage after the initial venting has passed.
“The Hunt” takes us into the uncomfortable space of recognizing how fragile the support of monetary future is in a world where jobs are unreliable long term, or even worse, time and energy consuming for the artist. “Skills” the anxious negotiation between the self we perceive vs. the self we present to be hirable or publishable, and not only the mental strain that puts on a person, but the dilemma of living as an autonomous artist when you may have to change your work for it to be shared, and to possibly have a future continuing to share it.
The poems continue their journey through the dregs of the working class and the time and life they lose in their survivalist state. The push and pull between the responsibility to strike and the pressure that puts on one’s ability to live, the corporate assholes who need cheap labor’s practices, and how the idea of money plays with one’s self-worth are also on the spit. Where the journey soars though is not in the misery of these experiences, but in the beautiful spaces that are found and the suffering endured to survive being able to return to it. The poem “Overtime” takes this into account and breathes so much living air into what we as readers have not only endured in the process of going on Harp’s journey, but what many of us have gone through in living in America. Even something as small as staying up an extra half hour when already exhausted just to kiss your partner goodnight is deep balm for all that is churned and torn. Especially if you are an artist of any medium who is reinforced with the need to constantly compare their accomplishments to the quality of their character in society. This utilitarianism is actively critiqued multiple times over by way of the emotional accounts present.
The accumulative poem aptly titled “Working Title” is button on the journey. It is heart breaking, heart affirming, exhausting, and something that should be stood by in solidarity. Chuck Harp knows not only his poetic voice, but how to allow confluence between each poem. The synthesis makes the read digestible, while also being incredibly complex. I hope to see more work and poems from him in the future, and for more publishers to give him the attention and time he is due.
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