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.
Now you can easily follow our new Poetry at Work posts. Add one of our Poetry at Work badges to your blog or website today!
- Poets and Poems: Paul Willis and “Somewhere to Follow” - July 13, 2021
- Poets and Poems: Claude McKay and “Harlem Shadows” - July 6, 2021
- Poets and Poems: Dan Rattelle and “The Commonwealth” - June 29, 2021