Blue Collar Broadcast

American Poets
Interview Series

Beaver Dam Rocking Chair Marathon

Tapping My Own Phone

Blue Collar Boom


American Poets Interview Series
Beaver Dam Rocking Chair Marathon Tour

Tour Log: August 16th, 1998

Interview with Lady Gem
by Jordan Green

barroom poetry introduction:

I'd like to introduce to you a honky tonk angel who causes all the college boys to lose the facility of speech, with the blue of the steel mills run together with the polite pink of corporate America, a dark red flowing river of feminine wiles and rough grace. Let me introduce you to the broken arrow, the drunken angel, the riotess of language, Lady Gem.

Lady Gem is a single mother with two fast-growing and energetic children. She maintains an excellent website, featuring her poetry.

You may contact her via email at

Jordan Green: So you grew up in a neighborhood in Cleveland with a lot of steel mill workers?

Lady Gem: Yeah, most of the people came up from West Virginia. The steel mills and auto plants were mostly where they worked. It was a real interesting way to grow up. It gave me a lot of good stuff to kind of get through it.

Jordan: Is your family Polish or Italian?

Lady Gem: Polish. My dad's Polish and then my mom's Irish, English, French, and German.

Jordan: You said your father came from Chicago.

Lady Gem: Yeah, my dad came from Chicago. My mother grew up in this area pretty much.

Jordan: One thing about your poetry is that you pretty much make the case that blue collar and pink collar are the same class. Do you see this as an aspect of gender -- the breakdown between pink collar and blue collar jobs?

Lady Gem: I think pink collar's just a fancy name for blue collar. You've always got that white collar that you are kind of subservient to. It's just a matter of degree. As I said in my poem, "That collar turned purple." That blue collar stuff still comes through. It's just a whole `nother world when you leave. You're so used to a certain way of living.

Burning Press has a really cool website that tells you the value of blue collar workers, people that grow up in a blue collar background. A lot of it is making do with what you have, the idea that family's what is important. It's not so much the things you have but what you are inside.

Then to go into an environment where it's very white collar and how much wealth can you accumulate, it's a real hard transition to make. I truthfully have not successfully made the transition and nor do I want to.

Jordan: So it's like having a double consciousness, in a way?

Lady Gem: Yeah. It really is. In the neighborhood because I work in this big, fancy place, they think I am somebody who's up higher than they are. It's like, no, I don't think so. That part doesn't change. it does put you in a limbo of sorts.

Jordan: You're one person who really identifies strongly with a working class esthetic in poetry. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how your 9-5 experience shapes and forms the poetry that you write.

Lady Gem: It's my rebellion to sit there during work hours and do poetry. In a lot of ways, it's my way of getting back at them.

A lot of my poetry is just about how I feel about life in general: being a single mother, taking care of two kids. Your in this environment, an office, where people have no concept of what it's like to have to go out and take care of two kids on your own. Like that little poster says over there, they don't know how much two packages of macaroni and cheese costs. They don't have to worry about things like how the schools are.

They don't go in the grocery store and say, "I've got fifty bucks. What can I do to make sure we've got enough food to get us through two weeks." They can just go and pick stuff off the shelf and that's it. A lot of frustration in my life comes from seeing the them's that have. It sometime puts you in a kind of thing where I'm a "don't have", but then when I look around and take a deep breath, I feel like I got more than they've got in other ways.

It makes me write a lot.

Jordan: Another question is, how would you sum up and describe what's happening in Cleveland poetry-wise? There is a lot going on.

Lady Gem: Yeah, there is. When you guys came up with this tour thing is when I really started to find out. I always knew there was a pretty active group. I don't get out much because of the kids. The Slam School (Red Star Cafe) last night -- that was a really great experience to know that -- and the size of the crowd; I never expected to see so many people there. There are all these workshops I was never aware of. Now, I'm at least motivated to get to the Slam School next month.

Jordan: Where do you get your passion for writing?

Lady Gem: I was really thinking about that the other day. Two teachers that got me started. They were the ones that gave me the initial push. In fifth grade, I had Ms. Korb. Usually, there was someone else that always got called up to read their stuff. She called me and she had to call me twice because I didn't think I heard right. She was very, very supportive and she said that I had a way with words (that I should) play with `em, do things with `em. In high school, I had a nun, Sister Anne Katherine that got me into journaling. So the combination of the two started the survival writing -- but with a creative bent -- so it's not all sitting there whining. It's sitting there and doing something with it. Playing with the words and making them do something more than just crying in my book.

I really enjoy writing. You just find that phrase and it feels good. It's like something opens up in your heart. "Look what I did! I made this really great poem." Whether anybody else thinks it's great it doesn't matter because I like it.

Jordan: Okay, is there anything else you'd like to add?

Lady Gem: Thank you for the motivation for all of this. Like I said, I've got fourteen, fifteen notebooks of stuff and I never really would have sat down and (made them into poems). If I hadn't seen that poem on the e-mail ("Honky Tonk Angel" by Jordan) ...

Jordan: Oh wow! That's so hard to believe though.

Lady Gem: No, really. I really appreciate it. It was a big motivation to get going.

Go to top of page
note: Tilt-A-Whirl Press press is done and gone. Details here.
Site design by Summersault
Last modified: (none)