America gave us Dirty Realism – tales from the underbelly of American life by writers like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford. Now it's the turn of the poets. And Fred Voss is a writer who really gets his hands dirty: he doesn't just write about factory life, he lives it. For the past 30 years he has worked as a machinist in various factories in California, transmuting his experiences into three books of poetry published by Bloodaxe, Goodstone, Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls, and now Hammers and Hearts of the Gods.
The backdrop of much of his work is the Goodstone Aircraft Company, an oily amalgam of all the places where he has sweated it out on the shopfloor, where each man has to be a virtuoso able to temper brute force with hair’s-breadth delicacy. Voss’s Goodstone is a bastion of male America where bragging men dominate and cheat each other, boasting of their sexual conquests while trying to come to terms with sexual failure. In this tense, abrasive, rowdy atmosphere, suppressed violence, male bravado and sexual harassment go hand in hand. And when the wounded male lashes out, Voss is there.
'Voss is the real thing. Reading him I was struck by how awful the world of machine shops is. His 1990s shops are portrayed as far worse than my 1950s shops, the atmosphere more violent, combative and insane. Of course our whole country has grown more violent, combative and insane.' – Philip Levine.
‘Voss has driven up and down the California coast for 15 years, with a toolbox in his back seat, getting fired and hired by various machine shops. One result is a body of poetry whose directness of address to factory experience is without parallel.’ – John Osborne, Bête Noire
‘Most of the poems are vivid vignettes of factory life, but they are also much more. They comprise a wide-ranging social-political commentary that exposes class conflict, racial tension, and social injustice. The poems also deal knowingly with male woundedness, insecurity, alcoholism, grief and shame… In all the poems there is an earthy compassion that reflects a true spirituality.’ – Tom Fulton, Poetry Review
'What is extraordinary about Goodstone is its tone; without losing either humanity or wisdom, it articulates the lurid world that is the average factory with a dedicated flatness . . . This is the shop-floor of all our existences, and Voss is a fine witness' – Adam Thorpe, Observer
Fred Voss reads four poems
Fred Voss reads and introduces four poems: 'Making America Strong' from Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls, and 'Hammers and Hearts of the Gods', 'Blood and Poetry' and 'Teatime at the OK Corral' from Hammers and Hearts of the Gods. This film by Pamela Robertson-Pearce was made during Fred Voss's visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2008.