Talented poet Tracie Vaughn Zimmer has a new collection out called Steady Hands: Poems About Work! What a terrific glimpse into people’s working life. From Janitor to Babysitter, Organizer to Surgeon, this collection takes jobs and shines a light on them, making you see them in a new way. Tow Truck Driver as fisherman? Welder as a knight in shining armor? Cafeteria Cook as parent by proxy? Cool!
Here’s one of my favorites:
Like a knight preparing for battle,
In an instant,
–Tracie Vaughn Zimmer,
And jobs common to teens, like Retail Clerk, Grocery Store Clerk, and Babysitter, are featured here, too. What a great way to help teens see themselves as part of the larger world of careers.
Tracie graciously agreed to put off her real work for a bit and answer some questions for me.
How did you research these!? Did you spy on people? Spend the day with willing guinea pigs?
Spying is a mandatory skill for a poet!
In "Tow Truck Driver," you compare a tow truck driver to a fisherman, reeling in vehicles instead of fish. This entire poem is an extended metaphor, so I’m assuming you already had that comparison in mind when you started writing? Is that right?
There’s an old German proverb which I adore that says, "Begin to weave and God will give you the threads." That is exactly how poetry works for me. Similes, metaphors (extended or simple) always occur to me as I try to piece a poem together. Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t often happen in the first draft! But I don’t think I’ve ever started with something in mind before I park myself in front of an empty page.
How did you choose which jobs to include? The variety, from Sheriff’s Deputy to Welder to Organizer, is great!
This started as an ode to my family and most of their jobs are featured within the pages (my dad’s eyes peek out of the welder’s mask and my mom was the Personnel Administrator) but I also wanted to include jobs of teenagers because I think first jobs really shape us as a person.
Was it your decision to give each poem the occupation as its title? As someone who has trouble coming up with titles, I adore that idea. But I’m wondering whether that was you or the editor who suggested that. And it kind of makes me feel like I’m on a pilgrimmage, a modern Canterbury Tales. Cool!
Wow, thanks. I think I did it just to keep track of the jobs and it stuck.
"Welder" is one of my favorites in the whole book. Which poem is your favorite?
You’re making me choose? Wah! Maybe the Artist because I was inspired by pictures of Megan Halsey’s studio when I wrote it. It was included in a late revision!
The "Cafeteria Cook" poem gets me when he reminds the kids to take fruit. How much did you think about the individual voice of each
Voice is something I love to play with and my favorite is the Sheriff, even though he doesn’t speak! Slipping on the persona of anyone else is a favorite aspect of any type of writing!
The "Retail Clerk" is hysterical. I love that she’ll never have to "witness/the mistreatment of/her discount discoveries–/like that salmon-colored silk scarf,/pilfered by her roommate/and discarded under the futon couch–/before she’s even had the chance/to wear them/once!" So glad she’s getting her own place:>) Oh, a question, you say? Let’s see…Are any of these poems based on real people you know?
Oh, yes. I’m always gathering details and waiting to add them in some book. I have a friend who is very particular about her clothes (I am a sloth at heart) and I pretended to be her when I wrote this one!
Did you always have "Morning" and "Night" as the bookend poems? They’re glorious, and of course they look at "work" in an entirely different way. How did these poems come to be in this book?
This is why you should have a brilliant editor. This was Marcia’s idea and I have to tell you that they were deliciously fun poems to write for her!
Steady Hands is no career guidebook, but it’s a fabulous introduction to careers both exotic and mundane. After reading "Grocery Store Clerk," "1 Lifting/2 scanning/3 sorting/bagging…/each day/a ballet/of hands," who would look at the cashier the same way next time? Next time my food was being scanned, I couldn’t quit watching the cashier’s hands.
Tracie’s poems are concise and accessible. Some are funny and some are serious, but all are satisfying. Amazon lists it as for ages 9-12, but to me, I think kids 12 and up will get even more out of it! .
Tracie is also the author of other fabulous children’s books, like Reaching for Sun (which won the Schneider Family Book Award) and Floating Circus! And on top of that, her website is jam-packed with teaching guides, book info, and interviews with poets and publishing people.
Amy Planchak Graves is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today, so mosey over for some terrific poems on this first Friday of National Poetry Month!
Monday is my online book launch party for my first trade poetry picture book, Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School. Check out an invitation here. And on Monday, just go to www.stampede.ning.com. Hope to see you there!