On the Poetry of the Workplace (A Guest Post by Glynn Young)

In April, I began exploring the reason for poetry. I’ve invited a few guests to enter the conversation in hopes that we might find a collective answer to the question, “why poetry?” (Read all “why poetry?” guest posts, here.) Today, I’ve asked Glynn Young to stop in and share his answer. Glynn is leading some wonderful conversations about poetry in the workplace at places like Tweetspeak Poetry, The High Calling, and his own blog. In addition, he’s recently released Poetry at Work, a book well worth any working stiff’s time.

Without further adieu, please welcome Glynn Young.

*****

I was educated in public schools, and it was in public schools that I was first introduced to poetry. Elementary education was a basic overview of all subjects, with a focus on whatever subject or theme our teachers were interested in at the moment. Middle school and high school had a focus on fiction; since this was the South, the Really Deep South, William Faulkner reigned supreme even years after his death. So we studied fiction, with an occasional cursory nod in the direction of poetry and essays.

The seeds for my love of poetry were planted in high school; and the love of poetry began in a discovery that I loved British literature. William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens. Thomas Hardy. John Milton. George Eliot.

And then T.S. Eliot. T.S. Eliot was the key that unlocked the poetry door. I read “The Hollow Men,” and something changed forever.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!…

In college, I started in pre-med but abandoned it (too much chemistry) for journalism. And literature. I took the English classes the English majors took – two semesters of British literature, from Beowulf and Piers Plowman to (again) T.S. Eliot. Along the way, my classes had a significant immersion in the Romantics – Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, and Byron (I survived tests consisting of nothing more than single lines or fragments of lines of poems – and had to identify the poet and the poem) (consider going through 30 or 40 lines like that in under an hour) (#IHatedPoetry).

A few years later, I found myself working as a speechwriter. A friend suggested I read three poets for a broad understanding of how language–and spoken language–could really work. He recommended Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, and no surprise, T.S. Eliot. I read the collected poems of all three. I became a serious speechwriter.

From that point on, poetry became a regular part of what I read. As a result, I wrote better speeches. My perspective changed. I began to look at problems differently. I often found myself running against the corporate herd (and trampled more than once). But that different perspective helped rescue two different companies, both of which believed they had hit a reputational dead end. Poetry shaped and framed that different perspective. Poetry and faith together were that different perspective.

About three years ago, I was sitting in yet another recurring weekly meeting, listening to the recurring weekly conversation, my attention drifting to something more interesting, when I caught something unexpected. I was hearing something in the repetition and in the conversation. And what I was hearing was poetry. Not necessarily good poetry, but poetry nonetheless. I looked around to see if others had noticed, but they had the same weekly recurring faces.

I began to pay closer attention to all of the forms of corporate work life–the interview, the performance review, the PowerPoint presentation, the reorganization and downsizing, the vision statement, the cubicle and other work spaces, unemployment, and even retirement. Wherever I looked, I found poetry.

Some well known business writers, like David Whyte and Clare Morgan, have long advocated for what poetry can bring to business. I love their books, but they see poetry as something from the outside of work brought inside and applied. I was startled to realize that poetry didn’t have to be brought in from the outside; it was, and is, inherent in the work we do.

Poetry is already there. To realize it, to grasp it, is to understand something powerful about who we are and what we do with a considerable part of lives.

We don’t work. We write poetry.

Glynn Young is the author of two novels and the recently published non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He blogs at Faith, Fiction, Friends, and is an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

*photo by takomabibalot, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: , , , ,
  • Megan Willome

    Oh, Glynn! Your hashtag! But seriously, you have helped me to explore the poetry of my work at the magazine in places I wouldn’t have expected to find it, like the form required to edit recipes or the lack thereof in a Q&A.

    Now everyone go out and buy Glynn’s book, “Poetry at Work.”

  • Jerry

    Wonderful Glynn. Thank you. By the way Prufrock is my fav T. S. Elliott poem. Quote parts of it often and my wife and kids just give me odd looks. :)

© Copyright - Seth Haines