Poetry at Work Book Club: The Poetry of Beauty in the Workplace

What I told the insurance company was that the fire appeared to have started in connection with a block heater plugged in to a minivan parked in the garage. My report included photographs that confirmed structural damage sufficient to warrant demolition of the garage and that none of the contents would be salvageable.

I’ll confide in you that while my report was thorough, detailed, and accurate, it left a good deal out. It didn’t say anything about the hundreds of tiny icicles that glistened in the morning sun on the edge of sunflower yellow siding on the house, the tanker truck’s spray caught in the tension between the fire blazing in the adjacent garage and the arctic rage of the polar vortex, still numbingly alive and well when something combusted under the hood of the minivan.

My report didn’t mention the way that sunflower yellow paint peeled back under intense heat, curling away from gray steel siding like the delicate petals of an ashen rose. I withheld the photo with the startling bokeh dancing against charred rafters slung from ceiling to floor.

And I certainly didn’t include the one-word of conversation I’d had with the homeowner as we stood on sheer ice in front of the garage, looking in past collapsed overhead doors. The roof lay on top of the minivan, once buffed silver, now dull charcoal gray. The windows were shattered, blown out from intense heat. Only black steel skeletons stood where the seats had been, dozens of slender icicles suspended from every horizontal surface like rows of teeth in a frozen chorus of gaping maws. The scene’s top-sided illumination was disorienting, sun boring through openings in a roof that did not, the day before, have skylights.

“Haunting,” I said to the man, shivering against slicing wind chills.

He nodded in return.

I left all of that out, though they might catch a small glimpse of it in the photographs if they were looking.

But only if they were looking.

In Poetry at Work, Glynn Young asks the question many are quick to answer with a resounding No: Can work have beauty?

Few of us associate our work with beauty, unless we work in an art museum, florist shop or national park. It’s one of the reasons—perhaps the primary reason—we fail to see poetry at work. No beauty, no poetry.

So if I consider my question again, confining my answers to the work itself, I would say this: not all work is beautiful, but all work is meant to have beauty. (Poetry at Work, p. 68)

The beauty in my work as a claims adjuster is not readily apparent. Some days I come home with my boots covered with the stuff that barn boots were made for, with soot smeared on my hands and face or sewage wicking up past the hem of my work jeans. Some days I wear a mask because even the air is toxic, and other days I stand on the shoulder of a state highway in the blistering wind photographing tire tracks in the snow that lead down into the ditch where pieces of a bumper and tail lamp prop up a bouquet of flowers, marking the very spot where it’s possible beauty itself expired.

Is there beauty to be found in that kind of work? Ask the petals of the delicate ashen rose.


We’re reading Poetry at Work together this month. Are you reading along? In chapter 10, Glynn invites us to consider the intrinsic beauty to be found our work: “What could you call beautiful in the actual work that you do? It may be as simple as the way your hand turns a wheel, the sound of a good speaker making a presentation…how a child suddenly understands something you were trying to teach him.” Perhaps you’d share in the comments where you might find beauty in your work. Other chapters this week considered the poetry of the organization chart, the poet in the culture of control, the poetry of speechwriting and the poetry of transparency. Share your thoughts with us in the comments on your favorite chapter, and any poems or observations you wrote along the way.

Join us next week as we wrap up our discussion with chapters 13-20

January 8: The Poetry of the Workspace (Introduction – Chapter 7)
January 15: The Poetry of Beauty in the Workplace (Chapters 8 – 12)
January 22: Chapters 13 – 20

Browse more Poetry at Work

Photo by joeri.cochuyt, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post and photo by L. Willingham Lindquist.


Poetry at Work Business and Poetry Books
Poetry at Work, by Glynn Young, foreword by Scott Edward Anderson

“This book is elemental.”

—Dave Malone


Buy Poetry at Work Now




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  1. says

    Wow, Lyla. That’s quite a post.

    I just finished Glynn’s book over the weekend. My work does include beauty of its own–the art of photographs and a good cover. I have nothing to do with that part of the magazine; I only work in Word. But our December cover? When I saw it, I squealed with delight. My boss said he teared up when he got the proof back from the designer. That was beauty.

    • says

      That’s really saying something, you know? When you do the work of editing/publishing day after day, I think you run the risk that it becomes mundane, ordinary. But to have that reaction when you see the proof of finished copy? Love that.

    • says

      In all likelihood, it would have been seen as irrelevant, extra paper in the file or bytes on the server. There are all sorts of reasons for that, most of which are good. But I do find other ways to humanize the “just the facts” drive that can overtake a claim rep inside the office with too many files on his desk. I’ll share some of those observations when I consult over a case by phone.

      When I worked inside as a claim rep a few years back, I wanted my reports clean and concise, but I looked forward to the few guys in the field who could relay the scene to me in human terms when we chatted by phone.

      • says

        I didn’t phrase my comment well. I wasn’t so much meaning literally as thinking how if we allowed this kind of thing we might see life and each other and our jobs differently.

        I know from working as a newspaper feature writer what gets edited out and as an editor of international health reports what I had to do to just present the facts. I once worked for an economist whose reports were so dry. I’m glad to have the poetry now.

        • says

          Well, there you have it. I am trained to read just what is there, so I gave you the official policy in response. 😉

          I agree — I think our whole world might be different if we saw past the “facts.” I can say that it was when I started writing poetry (and my first poems were work-related) that I really began to see my work (and the people in it) differently.

          • says

            Poetry can help lift a veil we don’t even know we’re wearing. Everything changes and doesn’t change at the same time.

  2. says

    Lyla this is so beautiful! I’m with Maureen… I wonder what the reaction would have been to your FULL report?! Probably would have been the most interesting thing they read all day. :)

  3. says

    This is a beautiful post and though I am only “working” for the sake of love as a caregiver for my Dad, this struck a deep chord with me. Finding beauty in the midst of a bone marrow transplant is the most difficult thing I have ever done, but necessary and needful.

  4. says

    This sentence is amazing, and taken out of context, can apply to so very much: “The scene’s top-sided illumination was disorienting, sun boring through openings in a roof that did not, the day before, have skylights.”

    Thanks for sharing this glimpse of your workplace.


    • says

      Hmm. Hadn’t thought of that, but yes, it could apply to multiple contexts.

      It’s one of the things that often stops me at a scene, the way a room changes because of light through openings that shouldn’t be.

  5. says

    Oh Lyla this is bone-chillingly beautiful. These are some of my favorite lines: “sunflower yellow paint peeled back under intense heat, curling away from gray…”
    “icicles… like rows of teeth in a frozen chorus…” and well if i am not careful I will recite the post in its entirety. It is that full and oozing with imagery, not missing a particle of detail. :) You inspire me to look more closely

    The Bed

    Lumps of down and cotton call “come make me”
    Add order to this crumpled
    Chaotic mess
    The day begins its regimen
    The King is made
    Sheets pulled taut till a coin can spring
    And bounce
    Like pebbles skimming cross
    No wrinkles, bumps
    In sight.

    The day is called to order
    When the King is piled with pillows, high
    Towering, reaching
    Stretching toward the corner
    Of the cob-web cornered
    Ceiling, crowned by spider with his
    Glistening web, lit by sunlight pouring through
    The sky
    Light and shadows waking up a morning with
    A royal show
    Each wall a stage for shadow
    And morning sun’s
    Operatic ballet.

    And then I turn my back
    To this place
    Which harbors secrets of the night
    Each dream, buried
    In between the fitted and the top
    Each word of love professed
    Hides among the Euro Shams

    And I have

    Smoothed the corners
    Made the day
    By making up
    Kingsized bed
    Closed the door
    On secrets of the night
    Padded cross the wood hewn beams
    Turned on the coffee, ground the beans

    The King proclaims
    That I may now, officially
    My day.


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