Published by Dancing Girl Press in 2010, Emilie Lindemann’s collection of poems is funny and devastating at the same time. I enjoyed the introductory poem, the dedication, and each poem to the very last so I felt compelled to pick her brain for details and Ms. Lindemann kindly obliged:
1.) Emilie Lindemann, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. The title alone is priceless. It is the entire reason I picked up your collection, can you tell us how you decided to come up with this title?
I was working at Kohl’s as a cashier for $7.25 an hour (minimum wage in Wisconsin) while I also worked as an adjunct instructor. I’d worked as a cashier at a farm supply store in high school and college, but this was different. I had my master’s degree and now the supervisor was reprimanding me for saying “Have a good weekend,” instead of “Have a great day.” During the first two weeks back in the service sector I wrote a note to myself in one of the notebooks I’m always writing in: “Dear Minimum Wage Employee, You Are Priceless.” I realized the note was also addressed to low wage workers everywhere. I am a person. You and I are people.
2.) The dedication page is funny and disturbing at the same time. For our readers, a sample of it reads as follows:
“For every man and woman who has ever worn a polo shirt, apron or nametag… For barcode wrists and inflamed pelvises. For bruised egos and unused Master’s degrees… For strutting out the doors and into the parking lot and never looking back.”
It goes on but the readers must pick up a copy and read it for themselves. In the meantime, how did you come up with your dedication? It could easily have been short and sweet and I am glad you made it as long as you did, it is fun to read.
I was frustrated with the way low-wage workers are treated by customers and the corporations, but I was also inspired by the way service sector employees can and do band together to resist corporate scripts. The women I worked with at Kohl’s and at my previous service sector jobs laughed together and turned the underpaid shifts into something else—maybe social calls, maybe games, or maybe occasions to appreciate and encourage one another. When we had to stay until one in the morning folding t-shirts and juniors’ jeans, we would take our shoes off and laugh. These poems are for those gutsy women (and men too).
3.) Your poems detail the trials and tribulations of working in retail, of the corporate guidelines are portrayed in such a way as to make the reader feel as diminished as the employee must feel when being told the guidelines. Your poem, Corporate Macaroni Code, is a good example which I will post below. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for such a poem as this one?
Corporate Macaroni Code
What is acceptable: black slacks,
especially when paired with a fuck-me voice
and a meek smile.
Avoid thrusting your elbows outward,
talking with your hands.
(This is only
for your own good. We wouldn’t want you
to look anything but professional.
We wouldn’t want you
to be mistaken for a woman shopping freely,
schlucking her boots against the linoleum,
sniffing blouse pits or rubbing discount dresses
between stubby fingers.)
On days when the weather
is especially conducive to Capri pants,
we want you to give us your shiniest apples,
your macaroni necklaces, the last rasp of your voice,
even if it’s higher or purpler than you feel.
Even if you go home to peanut butter.
Many jobs in the service sector have dress codes for employees that are quite entertaining to read. Sometimes the dress codes seem like a way to take power away from employees, to show workers that management and the corporation have power over them. Yet, the corporation spins it as a way to “protect” the worker, to make sure she is being professional. Of course, it makes sense at a grocery store or department store where you are issued a polo shirt. But it becomes a bizarre document at department stores where one wears her own clothes. The language and tone of the corporate dress code for one particular store seemed to imply that the retail employee does not have a sense of professional dress—or taste for that matter. For example, I remember that overalls and mesh tops were strictly forbidden. As if! Yet, the title and final stanza of my poem are important. The employee must not only give her best dress pants to the company but also herself. She must give her real smile, her real humanity for the sake of the corporation making a profit and reeling in store credit card customers.
4.) I love your poem, On Your Day Off, which describes exactly what the poem title says. I am curious about the paper pulp mentioned in the poem: Do you make your own? Also, can you tell us the inspiration behind this poem and give us some more details about things mentioned such as “the sound acrylic nails make/drumming on your countertop”? Here is the poem below:
On Your Day Off
You slide into traffic.
For a few tree-lined blocks
you could be
a business woman
or healthcare professional.
Later, at home—dipping your hands into
Inches of paper pulp you almost see the
blues, pinks, and mauves
of the updated misses department.
You stir pulp
until it purples, until no one
calls you ma’am or asks you to check prices.
And still later, when fibers collide,
when the paper flaps on the clothesline,
you forget barcodes, the sound acrylic nails make
drumming on your countertop. Instead you hear
geese honking beyond boxers
and solitary socks.
I haven’t made my own paper in a while, but that summer I did! I made the pulp in a kitchen blender and dumped it into a big old Rubbermaid container and it just felt so good to use my hands to make something that was for me. I was experimenting at the time with book art. It was such a joy to make something that involved colors and textures. This reminded me of the colors and textures that become tired and mundane and so separate from the worker at a store like Kohl’s where for several months everything is the same burgundy and mustard yellow and purple that you beep and bag. That particular day off it was such a pleasure to be left on my own and to hear outdoor sounds (I was making the paper outside) instead of hearing the sounds of middle-aged women drumming acrylic fingernails on my countertop when I scanned and folded their items as quickly as I could. The drumming of fingernails was intended to tell me that their time was valuable—more valuable than mine.
5.) You had mentioned that working at Kohl’s had inspired these poems when I sent you an e-mail to ask if I could interview you. Can you tell us what it was about the work there that inspired you to write about it? Was it to relieve yourself of frustration or a way to vindicate yourself about the work? What kind of work do you do now and do you write about it in poems, too?
Well, cashiers and other pink-collar workers like waitresses are expected to adhere to these scripts that consist of saying “Hello, welcome to Kohl’s” and apologizing for things that aren’t our fault and pretending that the customer is always right. These poems are my way of talking back, of making an alternate script where I voice my feelings and assert my “person-hood.”
When I wrote these poems I was also an adjunct instructor. And for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s like being a professor but without an office and without health insurance and with much, much lower pay. Now I teach writing full time at a liberal arts college. And I certainly do write about being a writing teacher. I think it’s interesting to explore things from the teacher’s point of view. I have this poem that talks about not grading essays because I ate a Twix bar in the grocery store parking lot. I wrote a poem called “How to Wear a Pencil Skirt” that explores the teacher’s sexuality.
I admit that there was this uneasiness when I was finishing my collection of poems (Pink-Collar Brides)—some of them speaking to the cashier’s experience—when I accepted a full-time teaching job. Could I still write about being a cashier? About being an adjunct?
6.) The closing poem is directed at brides and begins with a quote from a Bridal Guide. The quote has advice that I, personally, think sounds silly. This poem is directed at the bride who is now faced with real life now that the big event is over.
I am very curious to know how this poem came about? I, myself, have always dreaded weddings and their brides and wonder about your thoughts on the whole thing? Even for my own wedding, which turned out lovely, I still wish I had eloped and skipped the whole beauty-pageant-feeling of being a bride. I always looked forward to the marriage part, not the wedding. This poem paints a rather grainy and sober picture of what happens after the wedding. The poem is below, please enlighten us to the creative process for this poem:
A Ghazal for the Bride with Post-Wedding Blues
Some brides feel disappointed after their big day. Try to keep up with friends, establish a work-out routine with your hubby, anything to keep you moving and out of your papasan chair. –Bridal Guide
The wedding is over, the bride may now begin her spinning.
Bring out the bacon, the frying pans, and soiled sheets.
The wedding is over, the bride may have her gown professionally cleaned.
May all your nights involve Sudoku puzzles.
The wedding is over, the bride can roll up clean underwear
and ball socks together to create onions for his steak.
The wedding is over, the bride may now take down her knot.com profile.
And retreat to cellars for heads of lettuce and shriveled grapes.
The wedding is over, the bride can stop dieting, and let her skin go pale.
Piece together rye bread, sauer kraut, and smoked turkey with swiss.
The wedding is over, the bride can unveil her sweatpants.
She can trace long snakes of stretch marks to spell out “boredom” and “loneliness.”
The wedding is over, the bride can cut off her hair and paint her fingernails purple.
Tell the groom to strip off his cummerbund so she can catch her clippings and drippings.
The wedding is over, the bride can climb out of her papasan chair
And rollerblade down hills and into a deep valley.
Well, I rarely ever write formal verse. And my professor at the time, Brenda Cardenas, who has been a huge inspiration as a teacher and poet, challenged us to try several forms. I became intrigued with the ghazal form, how the couplets stand alone as individual poems, and how the rhyming word and refrain work like chimes. I cheated. I changed the form so that instead of a repeating word at the end of each couplet there is this refrain at the beginning: “the wedding is over.” But, anyways, I was preparing for my own wedding which ended up being an old fashioned Wisconsin wedding with chicken and potatoes and beer and a big white dress with red roses on it. And I was so conflicted because I hated the idea of registering for gifts and making my sisters and best friend wear matching shiny dresses and wearing a veil (which I didn’t). I thought the advice from a wedding magazine in the epigraph was kooky and demeaning, so I imagined the relief (rather than the anxiety) after a wedding. I imagined a bride letting her gut hang out. But I also imagined the disappointment that might happen after one has gone from being the Bride to being a Wife---especially in a culture where the Husband or Hubby (a word I refuse to use) is supposed to “complete” her.
7.) Where else can we find your poems or collections? Do you have a blog or web-site we can visit that you could include a link to? Are there any creative projects you are working on that we might see in the future? What kinds of events and happenings are inspiring your poems today?
I have a collection, Pink-Collar Brides, that I’m still submitting to a few presses that I admire—trying to find a good home for it. I have some recent poems up at Prime Number and Melusine.
8.) Which writers, poets, artists do you enjoy reading or seek inspiration from?
My favorite poets are Jan Beatty, Karen Brodine, and Chris Llewellyn---Carol Tarlen too. These women explore the world of work in their poetry. I always loved Lucille Clifton for her humor and gutsiness in her work. And, of course, I admire fellow Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker for the fun she has with language and sounds in her poetry. I made my husband come with me to Blackhawk Island (where Niedecker lived) last year as a kind of pilgrimage.
Plus, I’ve been inspired by the poets and writers who have been my writing teachers: Karl Elder, James Liddy, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Kimberly Blaeser, Liam Callanan, and of course Brenda Cardenas as I mentioned earlier.
9.) Any advice for aspiring poets and writers out there?
Never underestimate the possibilities of a writing exercise or an experiment. Once I made a whole series of prose poems because I had this idea that I was going to force myself to use the word “panty” somehow in each one. When an experiment looks limiting it’s really freeing.
Write stuff down constantly. Doodle. Observe.
And I think exercise helps too—it lets you think and create without the pressure. I walk past corn fields and cows or I go to a Zumba class and I just relax and think.
Emilie Lindemann, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I wish you continued success in your writing and creative endeavors, please keep in touch.
If you would like a copy of Emilie Lindemann’s collection: Dear Minimum Wage Employee, You are Priceless, please visit the link to Dancing Girl Press below to purchase a copy for $7.00 at:
Thanks always for reading, please drop in again for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…