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CLMP Publishers Literature & Fiction - Poetry

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The Art of Bagging

ISBN: 9781733602099
Binding: Paperback
Author: Joshua Gottlieb-Miller
Pages: 132
Trim: 6 x 9 inches
Published: 05/01/2023

Most of the poems in The Art of Bagging were written while Joshua Gottlieb-Miller worked in a grocery store, often in fragments on the folded-up piece of paper he kept tucked in his pocket. Gottlieb-Miller worked at Trader Joe's after getting his undergrad degree, left the store to pursue an MFA, and then returned after completing his advanced degree. Feeling stuck, watching time tick away stocking shelves, Gottlieb-Miller found himself dreading the store but writing more and more. This is a hybrid book. Because so many of his co-workers said or did things that inspired poems, Gottlieb-Miller knew he wanted to interview as many as he could. Many of these poems of retail labor are informed by meditations on visibility or invisibility, the accessibility of the setting and that frustration giving way to lyrical and meditative flights. The book's arc traces the speaker's recognition of these workers' shared positions—thoughtful individuals enmeshed in a singular, larger system—within an economic and, by the end of the book, metaphysical space.


Joshua Gottlieb-Miller earned his BA from St. Mary's College of Maryland, and his MFA and PhD from the University of Houston. He served as Poetry Editor and Digital Nonfiction Editor for Gulf Coast, as well as a Post-Harvey Think Tank Fellow for folklore at Rice University's Humanities Research Center. He has been awarded poetry fellowships at MacDowell, the Yiddish Book Center's Tent Workshop, and elsewhere. He has published poetry, nonfiction, hybrid, and multimedia writing, most recently in Brooklyn Rail, MAYDAY Magazine, Concision Poetry Journal, and Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts. He worked at Trader Joe's three times: once in Silver Spring, Maryland, and twice in Madison, Wisconsin. He currently teaches at San Jacinto College and lives in Houston with his wife and son.


"Joshua Gottlieb-Miller's debut collection, The Art of Bagging, interrogates American assumptions about retail workers often relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy for their dead-end earning potential and perceived lack of intelligence. With wit and a light-handed learnedness, the book rejects such classist categorizations, leading us on a searching inquiry about making meaning out of the everyday. Having taken a job at a big box grocery store, the speaker in The Art of Bagging confronts existential questions about his identity as a person and poet, starting with the title poem that kicks off the collection: It's an art, customer says,/what you do./Self-conscious of whatever/she thinks I am./Very aesthetic, I say. Words/mean each thought/inside them./Relationships are transactional between customers and employees, so the compliment fails to land. In a later poem, when a 'Lady (a nice lady)' mentions that 'Jesus works the night shift,' the speaker realizes 'I don't like to be reduced, / even to something bigger than me.' Gottlieb-Miller's originality shines in moments where self-scrutiny and absurdist humor converge to transform the everyday into a subject worthy of art. 'Beauty's Workflow' brilliantly satirizes our culture's deification of Progress, Capitalism's twin, by turning a motivational saying on its head: Pain is eighty percent/ mental, Boss says. It hurts/ too much to nod./What's Japanese/ for continual improvement/ that ruins your ambitions?" - Rosanna Young Oh