I work for an organization that places a great emphasis on employee safety. The reasons are historical, going back to a time before even I was born (in other words, a long time ago). In practice, this emphasis means required quarterly safety training (via video) that includes a mandatory test; regular safety messages sent by email; an annual safety awards program; and a safety newsletter published twice a month that shows up in – the bathrooms.
Yes, the bathrooms. Strategic placement of the newsletters means we become a captive audience.
A few months back, we all noticed that the new edition of the newsletter included a safety contest – a call for submissions of safety-themed poems. It was a poetry contest focused on safety.
Cynical me believed few, if any, employees would participate. I was wrong. Numerous employees submitted poems. The entries were as creative as they were diverse – haikus, limericks, free verse, rhyming couplets – just about everything except sonnets and sestinas. (No one write an epic, either; there were space limitations in the newsletter.)
The contest is over, but the poetic impact continues in the newsletter, which still publishes the occasional poem (typically a haiku or limerick).
Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but my own understanding of poetry at work goes deeper.
I find it in the meetings, the offices and cubicles where people gather and do work.
I find in both what is communicated and how it’s communicated.
I find poetry in the CEO’s speech to employees, and the supervisor’s pep talk.
I find it in the communications and updates from Human Resources (I didn’t say it was all good poetry).
I walk around the campus and find poetry in the lines of the buildings, the art on hallway walls, the frozen shimmering of the reflecting pools in winter, the colors of the glass and stone of the buildings and walkways, the bold statements of the sculpture.
Tuesday, January 15, is the first annual Poetry at Work Day, announced by TweetSpeak Poetry, noted by others, and even publicized by publications like Christianity Today. (To see an interesting and related article, visit the Harvard Business Review for an article on “The Benefits of Poetry for Professionals.”
The idea behind it is simple: Poetry already exists in the workplace. Let’s find it and highlight it.
This isn’t to say that you should camp outside the CEO’s office and read selections from Nikki Giovanni, Emily Dickinson and Beowulf. It could be something as simple as writing a poem about your work space or organizing a poetry reading in the cafeteria. Keep an eye on TweetSpeak Poetry for more information.
Poetry will be found in the workplace, if you look for it.
I find it in the work itself, too, the act of using mind and muscle to create and maintain something of value, something that matters. In my mind, poetry speaks the value into existence.
Photograph (top): Three “Poetry at Work” mugs available through TweetSpeak Poetry. (I actually have the one on the right.) Photograph, middle left, by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures (sued with permission). Photograph, bottom right: the title page of a poetry book I found years ago at a book fair.