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.
“The Art of Bagging unpacks the American obsession with livelihood-as-personhood. Through an inventive structure—spare lyrical narrative, surprising aphorism, and raw interview—Josh Gottlieb-Miller works over definitions of what work is. The grocery store is only a setting, a crucial one though, for the book’s astonishing revelations. This is ontology bagged, in which disparate voices are identified (a rarity for poetry of labor) and the apocrypha of retail work is examined. Here’s an example of Gottlieb-Miller’s ars poetica from the powerful ‘The Fiction I am a Grocery Store Employee,’: ‘I’ve already divided/what’s false from true./As in a shortcut you/can only use once.’ Later, in ‘Grocers Debate the Apocalypse For Its Effect on Backstock,’ the poet writes, ‘I don’t like to be reduced,/even to something bigger than me.’ I am grateful for this book.” —Martha Serpas
"Do you think you would go out of your way to see an opera if it was about a grocery store?” Joshua Gottlieb-Miller asks at the very beginning of The Art of Bagging. What follows is extraordinary, lyrical, invigoratingly intelligent and, indeed, operatic. In this hybrid collection, Gottlieb-Miller considers the grocery store as a site for meditations on vast economies, complex labor systems, and the ordinary, often nearly invisible, people who work within them. Always thoughtful and humane, the poems are unified by Gottlieb-Miller’s own voice—a voice characterized by wit, warmth, keen awareness, and a desire to understand the many worlds of the grocery store and those who labor alongside him, within it.” —Kevin Prufer
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.