Lynne Thompson, LA Poet Laureate, Features Henry Morro’s Poem, “Any Job,” on her LA Public Library Podcast. The poem was first published in Interlitq’s Californian Poets, Part 3
Title — Any Job
Date — January 17, 2022
Description — Poems on Air, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Lynne Thompson reads Henry Morro’s poem Any Job, published in the online journal Interlitq.
Hello! My name is Lynne Thompson, Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles and I’m so happy to welcome listeners to this installment of Poems on Air, a podcast supported by the Los Angeles Public Library. Every week, I’ll present the work of poets I admire, poets who you should know, and poets who have made a substantial and inimitable contribution to the art and craft of poetry.
Last week, the selected poem appeared in the online journal Interlitq; this week’s contribution to Poems on Air also comes from that same journal in the poem of Henry Morro. A native of Costa Rica, Morro arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1972. He’s taught in public schools and in prisons and has edited literary anthologies and journals. His work was included in Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (1995) and his most recent collection, The Zoot Suit Files: New and Selected Poems was published in 2020.
Today’s poem is “Any Job” by Henry Morro.
The men straggle into the cold warehouse
draped in tattered shirts, torn sweaters,
army jackets, their hats crowned
with logos—NY Yankees, UCLA,
Puerto Rico. Sometimes when they speak
I see gaping holes in their mouths
form the missing teeth.
Sometimes they arrive
in twos and threes—wandering
from warehouse to warehouse like a lost tribe.
Sometimes a son will lead his father
and speak for him, the father standing back,
his eyes open, the son boasting to me,
he can drive anything—give him a shot.
When they fill out the applications
they scribble the reason
for leaving each job:
temp work only
company moved away
Sometimes one of them is bold
enough to write fired.
Another one wrote,
fired for fighting,
and for another job he wrote,
fired for drinking with the boss.
Under “Special Skills” they scrawl:
I glance out the window
at the downtown skyline.
I know that when I pull down
the Help Wanted sign, still they will keep
shuffling into the warehouses,
hunched in the cold,
gaping holes in their mouths.
About Henry Morro
Henry J. Morro was born in Costa Rica and at the age of two his family moved to San Francisco. He lived there until he was sixteen, when his family reversed the American Dream and moved back to Nicaragua. After the great earthquake in 1972, his family moved to Los Angeles. He graduated from California State University, Los Angles, and began writing poetry. He has taught poetry in public schools and prisons. He has also edited literary journals and anthologies. In addition to his poetry appearing in the West Coast and national publications, in 1994 New Alliance Records released Somoza’s Teeth, a CD recording of his poetry. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters. His new and selected, The Zoot Suit Files, was recently published and is available through Amazon and at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts center.
The Queen’s Lender by Jean Findlay
Historical fiction set in the time of James VI and I
Reviewed by David Garyan
Jean Findlay’s The Queen’s Lender is a novel set in history, but fortunately for the lover of fiction, the book doesn’t read like a historical text. In fact, events unfold themselves in the most effortless way—as if the reader is witnessing a play instead of reading silent words. Findlay’s characters are serious, like King James; extravagant, like Queen Anne; loyal and generous, like the protagonist George Heriot; cunning and calculating, like Lady Marjorie; and quite often also funny, like The Fool. In other words, these characters are the real deal, and Lady Marjorie seems so authentic that readers will be surprised to find out she’s, in fact, Findlay’s invention, but only in the sense that it’s more probable for individuals with Marjorie’s temperament to have existed at court, rather than not; in this way, she is real, meaning the novel reads like good fiction should—it’s measured yet assertive, intellectually stimulating yet entertaining, and best of all funny without being grotesquely comical.
From the very beginning, readers find themselves engrossed in the world of George Heriot: He’s Queen Anna’s favorite jewel maker, and in time becomes not only her confidante, but also the royal family’s money lender—hence the title of the book. Although readers will benefit from acquainting themselves beforehand with Elizabethan and Jacobean England, the novel can certainly be read without a minor historical background. Through her use of plot, dialogue, setting, and description, Findlay is able to situate the reader—and this very comfortably—right into the main action.
The most wonderful thing about this book is that readers may not have intended to think historically, but they will invariably make discoveries, simply through the pleasure of reading the book alone. At the same time, those already quite familiar with the history of James VI of Scotland and I of England, will see things in a new light, precisely because of Findlay’s good sense to tell this story from the perspective of George Heriot—an asymmetrical but aesthetically appealing choice; and so, the best praise one can bestow on Findlay’s novel is that it’s like discovering the story of Beowulf through the eyes of Grendel, in the sense that while figures like James, Anna, Shakespeare, and Ben Johnson might already be very familiar to most, their story, like Beowulf’s, is rarely, if at all, told from a perspective other than their own. By using George Heriot as the eyes and ears of the court, Findlay uses her skills as a novelist to offer precisely this “new” perspective on a set of “familiar” historical events. In other words, what John Gardner did for Beowulf, Findlay has done for one of the most fascinating historical periods of the UK.
The novel begins so in Edinburgh, 1593: “A pregnant woman is a fragile being, and George has two on his hands. His wife who keeps reminding him she is his queen and his Queen who is in fact his queen.” From this sentence alone, readers can already get a small glimpse of Findlay’s witty, yet straightforward prose style. As the plot progresses, we find ourselves in a domain of shifting alliances, the birth and death of children, along with elation and grief; in this respect it’s also important to mention that while Findlay is leading us through a world inhabited mostly by the aristocracy and gentry, the jubilations and troubles we encounter in this milieu very much resemble our own. The concern, for instance, many of us have faced—to remain safely at home or leave our places of comfort in search of greater opportunity—isn’t an existential burden restricted to the realm of the upper-class. It’s a question many of us will face at some point in our own lives. George Heriot now has to decide whether he will follow his king to London, and thereby become the official jeweler of the court, or remain in Edinburgh, the city he loves and cherishes.
As we read on, a world much like our own reveals itself, full of divisions, rivalries, loyalty, and betrayal. In empires divided by religious affiliation, what will King James do? He can give in to the charms of his Bohemian ambassador and support a Protestant faction in a land ruled by the Hapsburgs, who are, in fact, supported by Spain—not only a Catholic country but also an ally to James. He can also remain loyal to Spain, but with this loyalty he will lose the support of not only the admired Bohemian ambassador, but also the entire Protest faction in that land, which he represents. While many of us will never have to undertake decisions that could influence the fate of entire nations, the existential burden of having to make difficult choices, where competing interests make it impossible not to offend those loyal to us, is something utterly and totally a part of our lives.
Findlay, as a historically aware novelist, has managed to capture the essence of a fascinating moment in time, but she has also done more than that: She has taken this history and presented it in such a way that the people within it could be individuals of our own time—characters we’ve met ourselves. Take, for example, Lady Marjorie’s son. He’s an aristocrat, but one whose supposedly excellent breeding won’t allow for the politeness to take “no” for an answer. He attempts to sell George Heriot a horse the way a used car dealer won’t stop haggling a “customer” who has accidentally wandered onto the lot. Though Heriot says he does not want “nor need a horse,” the good aristocrat won’t quit until he receives a little compensation for the animal which that good jeweler once hired from the nobleman’s father. While we, ourselves, may not have been sold horses, and surely not that way, readers will nevertheless recognize the very same traits which cause our own contemporaries to sell us something with the same haughtiness—most likely a different, more efficient mode of transportation, such as the aforementioned car.
And then there are characters like Lord Lennox and Lord Douglas—trendsetters, but not their own; they follow the trends of the most important people. When the former hears about “the buttons recently designed for the King’s jacket,” he naturally “wants some for himself,” naturally to wear them “only the day after the King wears them in public,” out of courtesy, of course; the latter meanwhile, also “wants buttons like the King’s,” but this time the trend has changed, and it has become “amethyst and gold.” Heriot, of course, like a good businessman, charges everyone upfront, except the royal family. It’s, hence, the seemingly “minor” situations in the novel which show us a world much like our own—a world full of greed, conformism, nepotism, but also of joy, family, and loyalty.
Findlay’s attention to detail is what really allows the story to come alive within the grand scheme of the history she situates her work in. Everything in this novel, as the late Harold Pinter used to say about good drama, has been “cut to the bone.” There’s no superfluous description or tedious dialogue that would make the reader stop and ask: Why? What purpose does this serve in helping me understand the larger aspects of the work? Her previous experience of working in theater is most likely what allowed Findlay to approach her fiction audience with a theater mentality. Just like one cannot expect someone to endure a tedious performance lasting one or two hours, it’s even more unreasonable to expect such patience when the effort is more solitary and lasts some days. Suffice it to say, with this novel Findlay has certainly earned the reader’s days.
About Jean Findlay
Jean Findlay was born in Edinburgh. She studied Law and French at Edinburgh University under Peter France and Theatre under Tadeusz Kantor in Kracow, Poland. She co-founded an award winning theatre company and wrote and produced plays which toured to London, Berlin, Bonn, Rotterdam, Dublin, Glasgow and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. She spent years in London writing drama and book reviews for the Scotsman, and has written for the Independent, Time Out and the Guardian. In 2014 she published Chasing Lost Time: The Life of CK Scott Moncrieff, Soldier, Spy and Translator with Chatto and Windus, now in Vintage paperback and with FSG in New York. She founded Scotland Street Press in Edinburgh in 2014 and now runs this small, award-winning publishing house. For writing The Hat Jewel she won a Hawthornden Fellowship 2018 and a Lavigny International Writer’s Fellowship 2019.
Elena Poniatowska, Miguel de Cervantes Prize Winner
Grand Figure of Mexican Literature
Vice President of Interlitq
Elena Poniatowska, Novelist, Journalist, Human Rights Activist, and Vice President of Interlitq
interviewed by David Garyan
Mark Godsey, Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director
Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project, Law Rosenthal Institute for Justice, College of Law