Jim Daniels: His Life and His Poetry

The Concept Of Punching Out

Jim Daniels was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, the automotive capital of the United States. He now resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of steel mills and coal mines. The one constant in his life has been hard workers, union guys (and gals) who took their work seriously, or so it seemed. These people seem to mind their work and do their fair share, do their best, but Daniels shows us that things are not always as they seem.

These people do their work, eventually, but they are slackers, most of them crude and unrefined. Guys like Spooner, the lazy ass son-of-a-bitch, but really smooth with the way he works...

Spooner wears tinted sunglasses
with his initials
in rhinestones on the side
and a felt hat with a big brim.
He smokes thin cigars.
Coveralls unbuttoned to his navel.
Gold chains. Clean welding gloves
in his back pocket, just for show.
He painted footprints on the floor,
memorized the steps that keep him clean.
Died his safety shoes white.

(From "Factory Cool", Pg. 19)

...or maybe a cold hearted foreman like Santino, who just wants to meet his quota, only pretends to care about his employ...

He made one dude run the broacher
when it was squirting oil
and that man lost a hand.
Santino made him a sweeper.

(From "Santino", Pg. 18)

A good way to explain the idea behind the poetry in this book is to use the excerpt by Peter Wolf before the poem "Hard Rock" (pg 57):

You see, when you're a kid in a factory town, you got only two choices -- staying and enduring the factory life, or getting out. But either way, you gotta be tough, you have to refuse to give up. People in Detroit are faced with more pressure than kids in other cities. There's got to be a release for the frustrations, and Detroiters express that release through rock n' roll

Life in the plant may be a boring one, and in the end, nobody will remember you, what impact you made, or how you worked for the company. You are one of thousands, a number in crowd of people, a nondescript face in a sea of faces...

The Company gave him an aerial photo
of the plant, and all the guys
sign their names around it
and Good Luck.
All you can see is the roof
and the parking lots
and the tiny, tiny cars.
As hard as you look
you'll never find him.

(From "Old Green", Pg. 66)

The plant life is also filled with a certain amount of pride. These are machines these people are putting out, and there is joy when you see that one of the trucks on the road may have been partly made by your hands. Just like little children like to have their work hung on the family refrigerator, so do older people like to have their work recognized...

Whenever I see a truck jacked up high so you can see
the rear axle, I wonder if it's one of the ones I helped
make. And when I pass the sign on the freeway keeping
track of the number of new cars built in America, I think
about how I helped make some of those cars.

(From "But", Pg. 78)

People working in these places have their own reactions to authority, and these reactions may lead to similar circumstances, or possibly different circumstances... Either way, these people are responded to, and are dealt with accordingly...

Gracie crunches toward the factory gate
over loose gravel, chewing a few
choice words to spit at anyone
gets in her way.

New security guard asks her
to open her lunch box.
She grunts, keeps on walking
He grabs her arm, she turns
Belts him with her pail, catches
his nose with a sharp edge.

He falls down, nose squirting blood.
She hurries into the tiny women's locker room
whiskey dripping from her broken flask

(From "Dishing It Out", Pg. 70)

Hey Digger, want a beer,
he yells at me. No,
but I see you've got one.

The guard's headed this way
He tosses the beer -- a high arc
anyone could see.

I walk away while he pleads
with the guard, laying it on.
If they think he's trying
to get caught they might think
he's crazy. Then he'd be in
real trouble.

(From "Shift Change", Pg. 20)

The time this book was published (© 1990) suggests that the material was taken out of his early life, and possibly the experiences and stories of friends and relatives from his life in Detroit. He seemed to show the life of Digger, the main subject of the poetry in this book, in a quite accurate and succinct way, possibly suggesting that he himself may have been a factory worker himself at one time. He can be slightly cutting in his language at times, as evidenced in the following poem...

Rock 'n roll
Coors and cunt

KY's house is being cased
KY sucks

Paul P. was hear also

What color are assholes?

Klan country.

Fatboy Santino

War on Fags

Fuck is a better idea

Bruno's Bar... No grill

my safety is none of your bizness

Get in shape at Ford Tanny

No Mo Fo Mo Co

Wally was framed

walkout at 3

Have you ever recieved head
while whistling dixie?

Be artistic
Fuck you

("Grafitti", Pg. 22)

Overall Feeling Of Punching Out

Punching Out is a very comprehensive collection of poetry that shows the feelings, hatred, emotion and sometimes horror of work on the assembly line. The book seems to show what the real world is like, not some fantasy world that some people live in... it is real life, and it is hard. The poetry in this book is sometimes hard-edged, and sometimes subtle and softer, but it never fails to get the point across. Daniels does a fine job of showing what a "real" person sees in his/her everyday life, and how they feel, how they react. A selection from the poem "The Plant Nurse's Story" (pg. 85) sums up this life in my mind:

He said
I'm gonna kill that motherfucker
then walked out
so I never knew
who his foreman was
till they brought him in
all smashed up.
He was a mess, I tell you

I didn't think
he was serious.
I mean I hear
that kind of talk
all the time