Poetry is part of every aspect of our work experience,
from our first job to our last one. . . Poetry is in work,
it is work, and it has been there all along.
In his newly published book of nonfiction, Poetry At Work*, Glynn Young relates how he first discovered poetry at work. He was at one of his regular weekly meetings, seated at the conference table, when he became aware of "a submerged conversation" that revealed certain elements of poetry: sounds, for example, and rhythms and imagery. As he continued to tune in, he writes, he also came to realize that "poetry shows up not only in a weekly meeting but in . . . the presentations we make, the spaces in which we work, and the successes and failures and challenges of work."
That flash of insight — and the recognition that the key to finding poetry on the job is, simply, "to look for it" — left Young "stunned." In that moment, he writes, he grasped that poetry offered him a way to uncover the limitations, strengths, values, and truths of his organization — to better understand what it was and what it could become — and, in the process, to deepen his awareness of himself and his colleagues. That made his discovery transformative, life-changing, altering his perception of the inherent value of work — any work, all work. "When we work," Young writes generously, "we express and create poetry."
The first in a planned Masters of Fine Living series from T. S. Poetry Press, Poetry At Work is not a how-to guide and it is not prescriptive. Nor is it academic, although it is clear that Young has taken time to read and research what others have written about poetry's value to business and includes brief profiles of well-known poets (William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, among them) who made their living in medicine, insurance, or other industries.
The book, a cogent volume that can be read easily in a single sitting, is at once both personal and universally applicable. And therein lies its value. Young addresses the entire work experience, from interviewing to retiring, and, through a judicious selection of work-related anecdotes, opens a conversation in which we can all share, because we can recognize in his stories our own.
In addition to those anecdotes, some humorous and others heart-warming, I especially like Young's characterizations of particular aspects of work as poetry; to wit:
✦ "Interviews, like poetry, are ultimately about ideas, even though they are ostensibly about people. Behind the people in an interview are ideas about careers, employment, the future, and organizational goals and objectives. Behind a poem is experience, personal and group history, philosophy, how one understands the world, and even hope for a different or changed future." (p. 27)
✦ ". . . The utilitarian cubicle . . . might be compared to the minimalist, spare structure of the haiku. . . A conference room, by comparison, is a kind of villanelle, where certain things (or lines) get endlessly repeated." (p. 32)
✦ "A commute of a mile is a short ode: Joyce Kilmer talking about a tree. . . Our commute of seventeen miles . . . was . . . like driving Homer's Odyssey twice a day. . . ." (p. 37)
✦ "Like formal poetry, organization charts followed rules, patterns and accepted practice. . . Today [, however,] most companies model the organization of their personnel after the network, a different kind of poetry altogether. . . [more like] free verse. . . ." (pp. 61, 62)
✦ "Crises are the poetry of surprise, upset, and human frailty." (p. 80)
These quotes are evidence of Young's accessible, imaginative approach to his subject, an approach that makes his book an insightful, enlightening, and satisfying read.
Also noteworthy in Poetry At Work is Young's inclusion of "Poetic Exercises", the purpose of which is to get readers to re-cast their thinking about a particular workplace event, issue, or concern to understand it more clearly. "A poem requires you to look at a subject or a theme from a very different angle," Young states, adding that what we can read, hear, see, or write about in the form of a poem can help us "clarify, organize and inspire" the work we all do.
* Available in paper and as an e-book (Kindle).
Glynn Young, who blogs daily at Faith, Fiction, Friends, is the author of two novels, Dancing Priest and A Light Shining (Dunrobin Publishing). The leader of a Fortune 500 company's social media team, Young also is an award-winning corporate speechwriter.
Note: Please consider joining in the celebration of national Poetry At Work Day, scheduled for January 14, 2014. A list of poetry-related volumes for employees at all organizational levels, including Poetry At Work, is available at the link.