Poetry at Work: Poetry at Work Day

Today is Poetry at Work Day.

I can pinpoint almost the exact time I became aware that poetry inhabited the work I did.

In the fall of 1981, I was working as a corporate speechwriter. Our overall organization (100+ strong) was attending the annual Public Affairs conference, an off-site retreat. It was late on the first night and leisure time; many were watching movies, playing cards, or simply chatting.

I was talking to one of our out-of-town colleagues; he was known as “difficult” to our bosses, which translated as “he’s so competent he makes the rest of us uncomfortable.” He had a first-rate mind; he was a first-rate communicator.

We were talking about writing, and then speechwriting. I told him I knew that speechwriting was where I belonged in my career.

“How serious are you?” he asked.

“Very serious,” I replied. “It’s where I belong, for lots of reasons.”

“Then I’ll send you the instruction manuals,” he said, and wouldn’t say anything more.

The next month, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens arrived, with this inscription: “Writing is not so much a matter of ecstasy as it is one of sacrifice and pain.”

One month later, The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot showed up, with this written in the flyleaf: “Eliot abrades the mind—such abrasions are necessary.”

And then, one month after that came the third book, The Poems of Dylan Thomas. Inside was written, “end of the trilogy.”

Those instruction manuals changed my life. These three great poets of Modernism taught me how to be aware of words, ideas, and language. And they taught me more, that poetry inhabits and often permeates the workplace.

And it wasn’t only because poetry directly applied to the work I was doing as a speechwriter. I learned about why the work I was doing was important, and why all work is important. I learned how work is done, and how it’s done well and done badly. I learned that poetry points to how to treat people and how to manage people. I began to see the poetry in the design of workplaces, in the polices and rules and guidelines, the mission statements and the vision statements. I began to see poetry even in why meetings were held and how they were conducted.

I learned, to paraphrase Tolstoy, that good workplaces are all essentially the same, but bad workplaces and organizations are bad in their own unique ways.

I learned that poetry is there, at work. All I had to do was look for it.

This is why the Tweetspeak Poetry editorial staff decided to name today as Poetry at Work Day. It’s not that we want to bring attention to poetry. It’s that we want to bring attention to the poetry that is already there in the workplace, and the poetry that is being created through work.

Poetry at Work Day can be observed in all kinds of creative (and non-disruptive) ways, from sending a poem to a colleague to holding a reading (or a poetry slam) at lunchtime.

But to avoid shocking your colleagues too much, you might consider something simple: look for the poetry that is in your workplace today; and look for the poetry in what you do for your own work.

Then tell us about it here. Write a poem for the comments, or simply leave a comment.

And then, look for the poetry at work tomorrow.

If you look, you’ll find it.

Photograph by Kelly Sauer. Sourced via Flickr. Poetry at Work™ post by Glynn Young, author of the novels Dancing Priest and the recently published A Light Shining.


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  1. says

    My dad sent a couple of pieces over today when he wasn’t able to get on the site. I’m posting them for him in the spirit of the day:

    I was prompted to think about work poems this past Sunday when our guest speaker at
    church talked about his father and uncle being coal miners in Nova Scotia.

    I recalled the folk song “John Henry, the Steel Drivin’ Man”, Jimmy Dean’s “Big John”,
    Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”, the folk song “The Wreck of Old 97”. They
    worked long and hard.

    As an accountant and auditor, I usually did not have to swing a 16 pound hammer and/or
    shovel coal but work doesn’t always involve working up a sweat.

    Paul Willingham


    The bank and the SBA requested
    proof that the rancher’s cows existed.
    So early on the day after New Years
    we set about to calm their fears

    The green eyeshade was left behind
    I donned my parka, woolies and boots.
    And with clipboard in hand
    in the barn with vet and cowhands I took my stand

    Check off the ear tag digits
    to confirm the cows presence.
    The vet was there too
    as he had things to do.

    A huge hypodermic needle had he
    to give the cows their medication.
    And horns to trim with an old hacksaw
    and then there was the palpitation.

    These cows were supposed to calve in March.
    The vet would each cow palpitate.
    The test is one hundred percent certain.
    But how it’s done is well…, don’t ask.

    The pregnant cows returned to the
    Pasture to complete their gestation
    The unpregnant cows to the sale barn went
    Where buyers from Burger purveyors
    Bid to transform them to Big Macs

  2. says

    And the other, from Paul:


    If I was working,
    my life’s career pursuing,
    and duties not shirking.
    What would I be doing?

    Repairing broadcast gear,
    tweaking the AM/FM hertz,
    keeping the FCC cheery.
    That’s what I might be doing.

    Or poring over income statements,
    reviewing balance sheets, audits
    in sunny Orlando, tough duty.

    Auditing, proving inventories of
    bred heifers, shedding no tears as calfless
    cows are herded to the sale barn,
    on their way to becoming Big Macs.

    Meeting with IRS auditors,
    preparing income tax returns,
    keeping up with the tax code.

    Or employed by a large financial
    services corporation. More taxes,
    income tax, estate tax, trust tax.
    That’s what I could be doing.

    Or reinventing myself, from desk job
    to self-employed construction.
    Climbing scaffolds, ladders,

    Siding, plumbing, electrical,
    carpentry, painting, repairing,
    remodeling, watching “This Old House”.
    Yes, that is also in my past.

    But now deep into retirement,
    This job, it’s low paying, but cushy.
    Working at my own speed, painting,
    home repairs, household chores,

    grandchildrens’ activities.
    Volleyball, piano recitals, concerts,
    senior breakfasts at IHOP,
    putting doggerel like this to paper.
    Now just doing my job and loving it.


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