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Poetry at Work: (Masters in Fine Living Series) Paperback – November 27, 2013
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I love this book in part because of its difficulty—or, rather, ease—in classifying its audience: everyone should read it. Poets, CEOs, HR directors, IT workers, nurses, job applicants, and even non-poets. Glynn Young adds eloquently to the conversation enjoyed by Dana Gioia, David Whyte, and Clare Morgan. His unique vision of poetry in the workplace goes beyond any primer or workbook—this book is elemental. —Dave Malone, author of View from the North Ten
By rights, Glynn Young ought to be a beaten man. After all, he’s a poet who does his day job in the prosaic world of corporate communications. But after decades of this heavy action, he remains ebullient. And now he’s out with a book on poetry, in which he describes how poetry makes companies work better, shows us ‘the poetry of vision statements’ and—even more unlikely—’the poetry of PowerPoint’ and ‘the poetry of the organization chart.’ For a corporate writer or anyone who wants to bring meaning into their work, Poetry at Work is an oasis they’ll want to call home. —David Murray, Editor of Vital Speeches of the Day
We don’t give ourselves enough time for poetry—at work or at home. If we did, our business life might be less stressful and more satisfying. We might find our work more rewarding. We might, as Young suggests, find the poetry at work. —Scott Edward Anderson, Global Marketing Director, Cleantech at Ernst & Young, author of Fallow Field
About the Author
Glynn Young leads the social media team for a Fortune 500 company. For much of his career he was a corporate speechwriter, and has won nine national speechwriting awards. He’s the author of two novels, Dancing Priest and A Light Shining. He has loved poetry since high school. Visit him at faithfictionfriends.blogspot.com.
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from our first job to our last one. . . Poetry is in work,
it is work, and it has been there all along."
In 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.
The social relevance of this book is undeniable. The world of work is in the process of being sucked dry of inspiration, passionate engagement, and beauty. Business has been taken over by zealots of optimization who seek to reduce every human interaction to an algorithmic calculation. Slicing every margin to a microscopic scale, there is almost no time left for workers to waste, for workers to think, for workers to reflect. In the data-driven rush to maximize profit, the human dimension of work is being left behind, resulting in a culture-wide experience of disengagement and distrust. This impoverished professional experience inevitably leaks out into the consumer experience, reducing once-cherished brands to mere commodities.
Poetry At Work implicitly argues for a return to a pace of work that is closer to the natural rhythms of deep human experience. Space for a poetic sensibility at work, the author argues, will bring companies the genuine creativity and cultural resilience they need to maintain commercial success.
That these themes remain implicit is a shortcoming of the book. Yes, poetry can serve as an emotional balm for people enduring the psychological abuses that have become a standard part of the experience of work. It can do much more than that, however. Glynn Young never pierces through to a deeper understanding of the larger trends in business or to the meaning and methods that give poetry a different dimension of power than the churning systems of Big Data can summon.
I'm glad that I bought this book. Glynn Young's observations are worth reading. His enthusiasm is inspiring. It is my hope that Poetry At Work can lead to additional works that explore at greater length the significant qualitative differences between the automated precision of analytics and the reflective, mysterious human warmth that commercial culture requires to remain alive.