As I read and write my way through Glynn Young’s Poetry at Work, published by TS Poetry Press, I remember my pre-conceived notions prior to my initial reading of the book last winter: I don’t commute (least not on a road), I don’t pack my lunch or buy it from the corner deli, I don’t attend board meetings (but I sometimes hold boards whilst my son drills, glues, screws, and builds something), I don’t wear make-up, and I don’t iron crease my clothes… so, I’ll be on the outside, looking in.
Boy-howdy, was I wrong.
Poetry at Work, and especially this week’s chapter, The Poetry of the Workspace, applies to all of us – whether work is of the cubicle, office building, paycheck sort or of the at-home, no income, duty derived variety.
I’m a card carrying member of the latter – even though, according to some nosey, probing, categorizing folks (usually nurses at the doctor’s office), I don’t officially “work” because I don’t earn a weekly income. Well, spank me running and stand me in the corner. I’m grieved to my bones that they’re not alone. Nope, those lovely ladies in soft soled shoes who peer through shiny glasses and smudged attitudes are in cahoots with others who think that my being a stay at home wife, momma, and teacher is not only a setback to womanly humanity, but to a household’s income potential.
No wonder in daze gone by, I thought Poetry at Work wouldn’t apply to me.
But, poetry, like work, is everywhere. You just have to be willing to see it, to appreciate it – no matter your arena (or your rose-colored glasses).
In this chapter’s Poetic Exercise, Glynn tells us to think about our workspace – it’s size, sounds, smells, and light. Also, to an onlooker, what’s obvious? What’s unique? The reader is then instructed to “write down some really good things you’ve accomplished in your workspace.”
“Workspace is important, and not because of status implications. It’s the physical area where a person may spend years being creative, productive (and to embrace that current buzz phrase) adding value.”
My dining room: I set the table three times a day – with plates and silverware and food prepared from local farms and gardens, and in the winter, from cans and jars and stuff from my freezer. I warm, boil, fry, bake, simmer, and sauté meals on a wood cookstove. In addition to feeding my boys, I partake of tabletop teaching five days a week (but really, it’s seven, because kids watch and learn and grow and do based on how they see their adults live) – we prefer Scrabble games for spelling, but we study word lists and crack mathematical problems too.
My living room: I share the joy of good books and we discuss characters, plots, and themes; I teach parts of speech, and we discuss current issues, politics, health, and news; we study the bible; we read aloud and create stories and rhymes, all whilst sitting next to each other on the small, old couch.
My laundry room: I wash the grime and grit of dirt, manure, sweat, physical labor, and fun; I teach my boy how to run a load through, too.
Heck, every single place in my home, and outside of it too, be it in the woods, the paddock, the yard, or the hillside, is my workspace. Because as Glynn says:
Whether the space is the Oval Office, a classroom, a home, the cab of a truck or taxi, a warehouse, an assembly line, a shop or a store, an offshore oil rig, a hair salon or an office cubicle, emotion happens there. Life happens there.
In the Poet Focus of this chapter, our authorMan introduces readers to Dana Gioia, “poet, essayist, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts–and a former vice president of marketing for General Foods (now part of Kraft).” Much like I’ve felt dissed about the authenticity of my “work,” Gioia also felt that something had been jostled from its place in America’s culture. He wrote an uproarious article (1991, with a follow-up in 2001) about how poetry had become something for the pedigreed, but not the ordinary. Not a man to bemoan without offering some fix-its, Gioia “suggested six actions poets could take to move poetry…(to) the audience that had been largely abandoned.” You can read Glynn’s book or look up the article for the complete list, but one of them stands out to me:
5. Poetry teachers should spend less time on analysis and more on performance.
Good night Irene, the next time someone questions me about my “work,” I’ll pull out Poetry at Work and read ’em a few paragraphs… then we’ll talk about performance. And one’s workspace.
Glynn Young site
Poetry at Work (the book)