On Poetry & Business Life

August 6, 2010

Years ago I developed a talk called “Poetry & Business Life,” which I delivered to Rotary Clubs and other gatherings of business people.  I thought of it today after this exchange on Twitter:

poetry & heart & soul RT @greenskeptic: @slboval @GarrettMelby @jerrycolonna Business needs more poetry!

I began my talk, which is unfortunately too long to publish here, with an often quoted line by William Carlos Williams (the Doctor-poet):

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

The real news in my talk was about the importance of allowing poetry into our lives as business people — and yes, of opening our hearts and souls, too.

I also talked about how many poets take up other professions.  Many are teachers, of course, but I was thinking about other professions: doctors, insurance salesman, vps of marketing, copywriters for ad agencies, bankers and publishers, to name a few famous examples.

It’s a product of our age that, with very few exceptions, poets can’t make a living from their craft. As poet Robert Graves said, “There is no money in poetry, but then/ there is no poetry in money either.”

Some, like Wallace Stevens, keep their poetry and business lives completely separate.  But increasingly, as I wrote in my talk,  “more and more poets are coming out of the board room and are more open about their corporate lives in their writing.”

I went on to observe

This is a good thing, both for poetry and for business.  We need a greater understanding of the emotional ties and the spiritual side of the work we do.  So much of our lives are spent among this certain group of people, who are not our family and not always our friends, but who nevertheless represent important relationships.

Together, we are a corpus, an enterprise of humanity, and there is much to be learned from our interactions.

Poetry can be a means to tap into the stories we share; for poetry, with its economical use of language, connects us with our compassionate selves as managers and as business people.  Poetry can teach us how to find the balance within life and work, rather than between life and work.

We need poetry for exactly what can be found there and what it can bring to our lives in the office.

David Whyte, in his book The Heart Aroused, describes the need for poetry in what he calls “the fight to save the soul of corporate America.”  Business people who bring poetry into their business lives and poets who bring their business lives into their poems are also saving poetry by making it more relevant to people’s lives.

This can only be a good thing for the future of poetry in America—and for business.

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One Response to “On Poetry & Business Life”

  1. @mckra1g Says:

    Poetry and business are not only complementary, but it is my opinion that proficiency in one enables success in the other.

    The ability to exercise fluidity and creativity within poetry keeps the brain (and I would posit, soul) limber. By developing and flexing these figurative muscles, the poet is able to see opportunity where it may have been hitherto “invisible.”

    Poetry, like other forms of art, has dimensionality and benefits that go beyond the surface. Much like Jackson Pollock’s Mural, the fractal mathematics that occur within the panel activate and resonate within the mind on a level to which we are not consciously aware.

    Poetry’s metrics, meter and other benefits enrich us in a like manner.

    Besides, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We need poetry in our lives (both business and otherwise).

    Great stuff. My thanks for sharing. Best, M.


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