Unexpectedly, I found Poetry at Work.
I was sitting in a meeting, one of those interminable, stifling meetings that recurred weekly, a regular meeting that had to be attended. It didn’t matter that each meeting repeated its predecessor, that 90 minutes was set aside for what could be covered in less than 90 seconds.
Attendance was required. Suggesting an alternative (like meeting annually) or skipping the meeting altogether was unthinkable; the fate of global capitalism hinged on seven people sitting in a small conference room every week and boring themselves.
Discussion was repetitious. Differences were repetitious. Even the occasional conflicts were repetitious.
And then one day, as I desperately tried to stifle a yawn, I heard it. I heard it in the repetition. The language had a cadence and rhythm. It actually had a kind of music.
It was poetry at work.
That personal epiphany actually happened some five years ago. I found it in a meeting. Elizabeth Bishop found it at a filling station.
Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
to a disturbing, over-all
Be careful with that match!
Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.
Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.
Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.
Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)
Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.
(From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop.)
Today we’re celebrating Poetry at Work Day 2016 (that’s #PoetryatWorkDay on Twitter). We celebrate it in a thousand different ways, perhaps even more. We read a poem aloud to our fellow workers, or read it silently. We put a Poetry at Work Day poster on the wall of our office, our cubicle, our kitchen, our college classroom, our truck or bus—wherever our work might happen. We look for the poetry in our work, and we write about it. We share it, for poetry is always meant to be shared, read aloud, listened to, and cherished.
We have a resource to help you celebrate from our own L.L. Barkat. Entitled Celebrate Poetry at Work Day, it’s filled with suggestions and ideas for ways to participate, celebrate, and enjoy.
The poems we find in and write about work are as varied as the work we do. But poetry is there, in all work, speaking to us, singing to us, reminding us that no matter what work we do, it is work that helps provide a common human bond across languages and cultures.
If you’d like to share a poem about poetry at work, we invite you to post it or link to it in the comments below.
Come, celebrate Poetry at Work Day 2016 with us.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
- Poets and Poems: James Tweedie and “Mostly Sonnets” - April 20, 2021
- Poets and Poems: Brad Lussier and “How Does He Love Me?” - April 12, 2021
- An Epic Told in 500 Sonnets: “The Gift of Life” by Amanda Hall - April 6, 2021