It’s 3 a.m. and your stomach is rumbling. You know only a handful of places are open. Golden arches appear on the horizon as you drive home. You wouldn’t have to get out of the car, it’s cheap and you haven’t tasted grease in days. Fuck it. You go for the fast food. You pull up, and a young squeaky voiced man hands you a burger. Little do you know that young man is a poet.
In Billeh Nickerson’s newest book of poetry, McPoems, the roles are reversed: You the reader are placed behind the counter of an infamous fast-food joint, where patties are doubled, chicken sauce is just mayonnaise and that weird smell from the bathroom never leaves you.
This book of poems is just flat-out interesting. The reader is brought into a world of comradery, delight and intrigue … and it’s all based on a McJob. You are immersed into a culture of greasy meals and fudge sundaes, and soon you’re complaining about ridiculous customers and the last time you worked the late shift at the drive-thru. Nickerson finds poetry in the spaces we forgot to look: “Millions of Canadians go to fast-food restaurants every day. The way our lives work, we’re always having fast food. That struck me as strange. I’ve been writing poems about it for years, and at readings I realized ‘wow, people are really eating this stuff up,’” he explains.
From behind the counter, you meet an array of colourful customers—both annoying and likeable. The culture is brought to life and the grey stigma of working in fast food fades away. Nickerson found that mainstream magazines weren’t exploring this social phenomenon: “The impetus behind it was that I spent a lot of years working at Geist magazine and editing Prism International and EVENT magazine, and no one was really writing about fast food or those type of restaurants. I maybe read one poem on it, and I wondered, ‘why aren’t people writing this stuff?’”
Humour and empathy are front and centre, but the poetry is there as well. Nickerson plays with the language that surrounds a McJob. His poems encapsulate the terms of a McJob and the subsequent feelings so succinctly that they read like a joke with a punch line. The poems provide further insight in the culture of society today. In “Dip Diptych,” for example, the dip trays transform from garbage into historical tablets. This imagery epitomizes how fast food is today’s notable culture. When history looks back on our times, all it will find is empty fry boxes and a series of golden arches scattered across the landscape.
This story appears in Poetry Is Dead issue 1. If you like it online, you'll love it in print. Subscribe Now »