Last week I had some minor surgery and into that foreign land of pre-op and recovery, I took Mary Oliver with me. (My husband came too but hospital rules did not allow him to stay with me as long as Mary). She was good company. I was tickled when the anesthesiologist saw me clutching A Thousand Mornings: Poems, and asked, in a gorgeous Middle-Eastern accent, “Are you a teacher?”
For a moment, I was speechless. Why would he ask such a thing? Did he think that only teachers read poetry? That maybe I was working on crafting some assignment for students? I smiled and told him my true occupation, but later, as I emerged from the shadowy sleep of surgery, I regretted my response.
Aren’t we all teachers? And doesn’t poetry help us understand this assignment of life?
I think this is what Glynn Young is trying to tell us in his very smart book Poetry at Work. Poetry gives us a medium to understand and express our experiences on the deepest level, enriching our lives and the lives of those we touch in ways we never imagined.
“Work is what we all do. We may work for a company, a government agency, a non-profit organization, a school or university, a religious organization, a private foundation, a hospital, or even for ourselves. Regardless of our employer, we work. And Poetry can be found in any and all work—not only poetry added on or brought in from the outside, but intrinsically present, waiting for us to realize it, see it, hear it, read it, and write it.” (from the Conclusion)
“The world is my office,” writes Scott Edward Anderson in the introduction to Poetry at Work.
And, indeed, when we look for poetry in each passing moment, as Glynn Young encourages us to do, the work we do becomes connected to the whole of our lives in a more meaningful way.
Poetry at Work covers a wide range of topics. From the commute to the vision statement to the handling of conflict in the workplace, Young draws from his wealth of experience to offer poetry in these moments. He introduces us to some of his favorite poets, some of his favorite poetic resources, and even gives us exercises to unlock our poetry at work.
We need poets at work, he seems to say. Because the way a poet thinks is different.
“The poets at work make the uncomfortable observations, point out the embarrassingly obvious, cut through the thicket of workplace jargon to get straight to the point, and ask ‘why’ about the ridiculous aspects of the organization’s culture. They may never write or read a line of poetry, but they behave just like the people who do.”
Sounds an awful lot like a teacher to me.
Do yourself a favor and read Poetry at Work. This is a book for all of us. Besides…you may just be a poet and don’t knowit.