Review: Flowers on the Factory Floor: Reviewing Daniel Schulz' Welfare State
By Mar Ovsheid
If you’ve stepped outside recently, you might’ve noticed that the sky is slowly falling and seems as though it could collapse at any minute. In our homes, dead factories, streets, gray offices, and half-forgotten corners, the air churns with a well-worn and unwelcome sort of desperation. This noxious, free-floating gloom crowds the atmosphere without a satisfying name for us to call it, with origins difficult to pinpoint, and uncertainty as to whether it even has a destination. As doomsday simmers away, Welfare State stirs the pot, pulls a pin, and offers to guide us through the dread. Seventeen poems disassemble the machine so that we might witness the rough condition of its parts. When did half the screws go missing? Was there a mouse living in the control panel? Who turned the speed up so high, and why?
In High Volume Device, Daniel Schulz writes:
Our life is a machine,
constantly pumping iron.
Our life is a machine,
a High Volume Device
of never-ending labor.
He notes, at the poem’s conclusion, that the title is a reference to the section of his workplace where “the belt runs fast and hence propels a greater volume of packages.” Imagery of machines, cold calculation, and humans pushed to their physical, psychological, and emotional limits frames this collection. The aches left by “the aftermath of overtime” and “fighting against that dead end of life / sold to us as fate” are confronted with a clenched, but tired fist. Bruises and agony and alienation are examined with both consideration and rawness, as heartfelt human experience is contrasted with the soulless executioners of industry.
Later in High Volume Device, Schulz continues:
Look closer at my heart:
it’s the motor of my deeds.
The vital power and endurance of Welfare State can be sensed in these two lines. The determination of pure spirit against suffocation and all of those who might wish to suffocate others. But what can you do when the sky is falling? And who will be the richest crushed-up can of all, when it does come crashing down?
In Fortune Cookie Wisdom, Schulz begins to tackle the disease of greed by reproaching the canned, trite comfort of gimmicky take-out mantras:
“In order to make a million bucks
you must first feel like a million bucks”
Close to psychopathy, hence?
In this poem and beyond, Schulz’s style manages to be simultaneously muscular and receptive, or as the final stanza purrs: “like a punk rock Propertius / ripping open his heart.” There is no over-flourishing or leaning into multi-syllabic obscurity in an attempt to squeak extra gristle from the pen. The poems are straightforward and true and connected by a pulse. The greed of the rich and the struggles of a claustrophobic world are relayed from the voices on the factory floor. “Get up Get up Get up” the alarm repeats to Schulz in Everyday Routine. He responds with a question: “What does it mean to have a life?”
He seeks answers from a multitude of angles, perspectives, and snapshots. Mundane anguish is captured and transformed into existential fervor. The sky may be full of holes and falling, the ground melting underfoot, strangers roiling with hostile silence, and madness letting itself in through the TV, but beneath the plastic bedlam hides reality. To witness and feel trapped by treachery and disillusionment means that one still possesses a soul. Human hands; a beating heart; a deranged voice that’s still capable of singing a beautiful song. In the stark world of gears and cogs, these are the treasures that remain untouched by all the rot and futility, or as Schulz says in High Volume Device:
You are that spark you carry inside you
through all the dirt and all the grease.
You are that spark you carry inside of you,
that spark inside that carries you.
The clarity and humanity within Welfare State rings like a bell of its own, calling the reader to Get up Get up Get up and see the untapped potential of the life they are living. A life that has a purpose, known or yet to be discovered, worth a million bucks or three thrift-store-dollars or its own weight in gold. Embracing these poems and their vivacity, one should hold tight to their own spirit, the ground below their feet, and in defiant gentleness remember: “You are a person with a heart of your own.”
Mar Ovsheid is a spoilsport who tragically dropped—and lost—her sea monkeys in the carpet as a kid. Her work has appeared in Cream Scene Carnival, Wild Roof Journal, Scavengers, Mulberry Literary, and oranges journal, among others. Mar works as a housekeeper and can be found on Instagram @mar_ovsheid