It’s Poetry at Work Day 2020, and I went looking for wisdom literature about work. Many of us have had experiences with work, jobs, employment, and bosses that might make us doubt whether the word “wisdom” even belongs in the same sentence with “work.” While we all have stories to tell, it’s clear that wisdom can be found in the workplace. One of the best pieces of advice I was given as a developing corporate speechwriter was to read the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Dylan Thomas. These three high priests of modernist poetry offered more than their profound poetic insights and how things could be said in a speech; they offered a way of looking at and understanding the world.
My search took me to lists of great books about business and work. Fortune has a list. CNBC has a list. Amazon has a book about the top 100 business books of all time. Bloggers have lists. I found almost as many lists of best business books as I did books.
A few books seemed to make all the lists: First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup Organization; Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy; Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras; Good to Great by Jim Collins; In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell; The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout; Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance by Michael Porter; and The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.
Several books made the “all-time classics about work and business” lists: My Years with General Motors by Alfred Sloan Jr.; The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor; Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming; How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie; and Management by Peter Drucker.
I also had some surprises. Three non-business books that I’ve read at one time or another are still considered books of general wisdom that can apply to business, management, and work: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith; The Art of War by Sun Tzu; and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. If you know of others, note them in the comments below.
For Poetry at Work Day 2020, we’re looking for wisdom in the workplace. It may be a story you have, something you experienced, a book about work or business you’ve read, or a poem you were inspired to write. Remember that the definition of “workplace” is as broad as the work people do. Consider sharing what you find or write on social media as well, using the #poetryatworkday hashtag. And please include it in the comments below — we’d like to celebrate this day with a followup report next week.
We have considerable resources to help you find and celebrate Poetry at Work Day. They’re all found here at Tweetspeak Poetry, and they include some simple activities, a free “Celebrate Poetry at Work” ebook, 10 great poems about work, a free 2020 Poetry at Work poster, and even a free excerpt from my book, Poetry at Work. Wherever you work, and whatever you might do, let us know in the comments how you celebrated Poetry at Work Day.
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