My last post featured a recently published poem about real-life work experience. As a double-life poet I often am influenced by what I hear, see, and feel during the work day. At times I am able to lend a poetic voice to the white collar bureaucratic office environment that occupies 8+ hour chunks of my weekdays. However, there are times when what I write about work just sounds like I’m venting without really elevating the topic to the universal. When I have trouble finding the poetic in the mundane, I turn to some of my favorite work poems to inspire me.
Philip Levine “What Work Is“: Levine’s award-winning collection of the same name pays homage to factory workers. The title poem is the quintessential work poem about the loneliness and powerlessness felt by a day laborer that just expands to include the unspoken love for his brother.
“How long has it been since you told himyou loved him, held his wide shoulders,opened your eyes wide and said those words,and maybe kissed his cheek?”
Where much of Levine’s work poems focus on blue collar stiffs, poems in the collection, For a Living: Poetry of Work, features poems about white collar jobs. Two of my favorite poems in this anthology are Denis Johnson’s sonnet “White, White Collars”
“We work in this building and we are hideousin the fluorescent light, you know our clotheswoke up this morning and swallowed us like jewels,and ride up and down the elevators, filled with us”
and Wanda Coleman’s lament about life as a medical billing clerk, “Drone”
“i am a clerki am a medical billing clerki sit her all day and typethe same type of things all day longinsurance claim formsfor people who suffer chronic renal failure”
Lastly, Jan Beatty’s “My Father Teaches Me to Dream.” The final lines say it all.
“There’s no handouts in this life.All this other stuff you’re looking for—it ain’t there.Work is work”
Ok I realize most of these poems don’t portray work in the best light, so I promise I’ll post some feel good work poems soon. If you know of any, feel free to leave a comment!