10 April 2009

Temporary Agency by Michael Colonnese

Temporary Agency By Michael Colonnese The Ledge Press, 2007. 25 pgs. $8 Winner, 2007 Ledge Press Poetry Chapbook Award Reviewed by Emily Scudder Michael Colonnese writes straightforward, powerful poems about work – temporary work. In his aptly titled chapbook, Temporary Agency, Colonnese doles out worksites – loading docks, a doorknocker foundry, a night watchman’s chair, as if the reader, too, was in line waiting for the day’s work assignment. Mostly the sites are rough places inhabited by men, much like the b/w cover photograph of an abandoned factory with broken windows. The author, however, is not trapped in any type of work for long, and that is where the tension resides in Temporary Agency. In his poem titled “Scabs,” Colonnese’s insider/outsider stance is declared in the ending stanzas that describe his relationship with a Spanish-speaking coworker. Mainly, we exchanged salt tablets and white paper cones of water that the foundry provided for free, anxious to replace what was lost in sweat, and somehow communicated as best we could without a common language. I think I was reading Marx that summer – not that it matters now. What remains for me are his blood-flecked eyes meeting mine for a few seconds, and the molten anger of expendable men in the glare of that ordinary pour. Colonnese’s writing style suits his topic. His strong opening lines immediately place us, “at 19 I had a night watchman’s job” or “Supposedly, we were the lucky ones…” and yet emotional content – anger, boredom, failure, resignation – is equally well-served by his direct, accessible language, and use of short lines, such as in the poem “Inside the Bell.” By five in the afternoon, a foreman would promise me double overtime if I kept at it. Up yours, I said, I quit. Or rather that was what I didn’t say, mistaking wordlessness for pride. Interestingly, not all 14 poems in Temporary Agency are about work. A few poems, most notably “A Mercy” about his father’s final stroke, left me wanting to read more of Colonnese’s poetry, and wondering what other subjects might be on this poet’s mind.