Friday, July 10, 2015

there is magic in concrete

there is magic in concrete
    if you believe

    building forms
at some point it’s inevitable:
    you are on your knees in mud
    your eye to the earth, your butt
         to the air
for meticulous muscle-work

chop rebar in a shower of sparks
    weaving steel rod, suspended
    by wires, twist pliers
learn the names:
    doughboy, waler
         pier cage, stirrup

the mix, the pour
    no second chances now
spread and level
    wading in boots
shake the gray depths, vibrate
    voids not welcome

then you work the surface
    flat, in circles,
with the tool called a ‘float’
    (because that’s what it does)
buoyant on a gray puddle
and here’s the enchantment
    or else I’m just weird but
with fingertips on the handle you can
    sense the wet concrete, the mojo
    like a sleeping wet bear
solid in mass yet grudgingly liquid
    sort of bouncy
    as you stroke

hold the leading edge
    at a slight upward angle
         avoid plowing
pebbles disappear, embedded
the tool is sucking cement
    a final thin film, a pretty coat
    over guts of gravel and sand
for a finish, swipe smooth
    or brush
    or groove,
edging, an art
now hose the mixer, shovels, tools,
    hose your hands and boots
as the water disappears, so shall you
    unless you scratch a name

honor the skilled arms,
    the corded legs and vertebral backs
    the labor that shaped
this odd stone
    sculpted, engineered
    implanted with bolts
half-buried in dirt
bearing our lives

©copyright 2015 by Joe Cottonwood. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Joe and Terry Show: Pas de Deux

I'll be giving a poetry reading this Thursday, October 23, with my good friend Terry Adams at the Peninsula Ballet Theatre in San Mateo (California). Being at the ballet theatre, we'll be the "Pas de deux."

Terry and I have become a rather popular duo. They call us the "Joe and Terry Show." We trade poems, each trying to harmonize or counterpoint or somehow riff on what the other has just read. 

We open with a few stretches and calisthenics because one should always loosen up before a poetry workout. It's fun. 

Terry and I both have spent our lives in the construction trades, so we take a non-academic and somewhat irreverent approach to poetry and if nobody stops me I have a tendency to break into song at some point while Terry might break into bombastic psychedelic preaching (briefly, both of us).  

 The theater (they call it "theatre") apparently is plush and large, which will be a new experience for us as we normally read to small audiences in the backrooms of bookstores and our local pub. We'll be preceded by an art show reception and followed by an open mic. 

Actually we have no idea what sort of audience we'll gather, if any. What works in a small room might seem utterly asinine in a larger venue.  So I'm a little nervous, which is probably a good thing. If anybody can make it to San Mateo on a Thursday night, I'd love your support. The Peninsula Ballet Theatre is at 1880 South Grant Street, San Mateo (just off Highways 101 and 92). The art reception is at 6:30 pm, the reading starts at 7:00. Hey, bring a poem and read at the open mic.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Free Audiobook of 99 Jobs to the first responder

99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses is now available as an audiobook at the iTunes store or at I've got a free coupon I'll give to the first person to send me an email (joecottonwood at gmail). But, hey, it's worth buying. I read it in my own lovable raspy voice, so it's an authentic experience.

If you want it on CDs (and the sound quality is better that way) I can send you a set of ten CDs, which includes the entire audiobook. For that I'll have to charge $40 to cover the expenses.

The link to the iTunes store is here.
The link to the Audible store is here.
For CDs, shoot me an email.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I am utterly embarrassed to be a member of the Authors Guild

I am utterly embarrassed to be a member of the Authors Guild.

I joined the Guild about 30 years ago when I was first published by a mainstream publishing house. The Authors Guild back then seemed to be fighting for my rights as an author against the big bad publishing industry. The Authors Guild fought for me while I published six books with the big guys.

Times change. Now, like so many not-exactly-bestselling writers, I'm indie.

As an indie writer, it's painfully clear that the Authors Guild is fighting FOR the big bad publishing industry. They are puppets of Hachette. And they are clueless about the needs and issues confronting indie writers. What the hell happened?

My Authors Guild membership is up for renewal on September 30. After three decades, I am not renewing. I'm not angry, just sad.

Meanwhile, you can still buy my books from Amazon. The big bad publishing industry won't sell my books, but Amazon will.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Labor Day: 99 Jobs at a penny a job!

To celebrate Labor Day USA, I'm doing a one-week price reduction of 99 Jobs to 99 cents in the e-book editions. That's a penny a job!

Here are the links for
Any edition of the e-book will be priced at 99 cents through Labor Day.

If you're in the United Kingdom, you can celebrate Labor Day, too. You'll get the same price reduction at UK Kindle or Nook UK (it may take a few hours -- or days -- for the price reduction to trickle out to all the worldwide servers).

Happy Labor Day everybody.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another honor -- Kirkus Starred Review!

I was reluctant to submit 99 Jobs to the Kirkus review service because they are reputed to be the grumpy curmudgeons of the book review biz. On the other hand, a good review from them would be an honest honor. And lo and behold, they not only gave it a great review but also a Star! 

For an indie writer, a starred review from Kirkus is a rare and lovely accolade.

Here's what they said:
A general contractor and author looks back on a 35-year career contending with a variety of houses and people—most in disrepair. 

Beginning when the author was just starting out as a novice handyman in the 1970s, this collection of short essays roughly progresses through to the present day, when, despite numerous tumbles off ladders and at least one impaling, Cottonwood is still plying his trade. The many blue-collar jobs that Cottonwood (Clear Heart, 2009, etc.) wonderfully describes in his latest offering may involve worm-gear saws, ladders, lighting fixtures and the like, but they’re really all about people. Some are wealthy, some poor, but all are frail in some way and in need of some proper shoring—that includes the ace carpenter himself. Each vignette confidently stands on its own, whether several pages long or only a few paragraphs. The robust snapshots of the carpenter’s working life toiling in crawl spaces and basements around Southern California over the last four decades consistently play on important themes of mortality, class and personal fulfillment. Elegant entries like “A Working-Class Hippie” and “The Airplane Room” touch on the often ephemeral nature of close human relationships. A vague sense of melancholy pervades much of Cottonwood’s work, even in the midst of relative triumph, such as when Cottonwood receives a check for a job well-done: “This simple act always fascinates me: the transfer of wealth. So casual. So vital. A rich man of immense power, a tradesman with none. What if he refused?” 

Expertly crafted narrative nonfiction that reveals the framework of people’s lives. 
They got it wrong about "Southern California," but I guess from Manhattan anything west of the Hudson River is southern Cal. For the record, it's mostly about the San Francisco Bay Area with stops in upstate New York and St. Louis and Colorado and a bit of Maryland.

You can see the official review at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

99 Jobs -- Best Non-Fiction Book of 2014!

Just announced at the Book Expo America in New York: My book 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses has won the 2014 IRDA First Place as the "Best Non-Fiction of the Year." (IRDA is IndieReader Discovery Award, sponsored by Not "among the best." Not "one of the top five." They called it "THE BEST." First place. The best non-fiction indie book of 2014.

I'm feeling a little proud.

In addition to the honor, the prize includes a free Kindle Paperwhite 3G. I've never had an e-reader, so this will be a new experience for me.

But -- wow. "The best." If you see me smiling, now you know why.