Poetry, expression of soul and spirit, provides a foundation for my life as a teacher, psychologist, and woman. The following poets (and so many more) inspire me in my work with students and clients. I hope you enjoy these poems; please feel free to send poems to add to the blog.
Please see the following links; the first four links are my other blogs; the fifth link is the professional organization to which I belong. The sixth link provides information about weekly poetry events.
Wallace Stevens was one of America's greatest poets. The author of "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"and "The Idea of Order at Key West" was
awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955 and offered a prestigious
faculty position at Harvard University. Stevens turned it down. He
didn't want to give up his position as Vice President of the Hartford
Accident and Indemnity Company.
inclined insurance executive was far from alone in occupying the
intersect of business and poetry. Dana Gioia, a poet, Stanford Business
School grad, and former General Foods executive, notes that T.S. Eliot spent a decade at Lloyd's Bank of London; and many other poets including James Dickey, A.R. Ammons, and Edmund Clarence Stedman navigated stints in business.
I've written in the past about how business leaders should be readers,
but even those of us prone to read avidly often restrict ourselves to
contemporary nonfiction or novels. By doing so, we overlook a genre that
could be valuable to our personal and professional development: poetry.
Here's why we shouldn't.
For one, poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity. Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman once told The New York Times,
"I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are
our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex
environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to
understand." Emily Dickinson, for example, masterfully simplified
complex topics with poems like "Because I could not stop for Death," and
many poets are similarly adept. Business leaders live in multifaceted,
dynamic environments. Their challenge is to take that chaos and make it
meaningful and understandable. Reading and writing poetry can exercise
that capacity, improving one's ability to better conceptualize the world
and communicate it — through presentations or writing — to others.
Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem "Celestial Music,"for
example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by
seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus
intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006,
the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, "Poetry in America,"outlining
trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The
number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was "understanding" — of
the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more
sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new
research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops
empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction
reading is essential to developing empathy in young children (PDF) and empathy and theory of mind in adults (PDF). The program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PDF) even
included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and
compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many
poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and
regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board
members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and
Reading and writing poetry also develops creativity. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton,
the aforementioned Dana Gioia says, "As [I rose] in business ... I felt
I had an enormous advantage over my colleagues because I had a
background in imagination, in language and in literature." Noting that
the Greek root for poetry means "maker," Dana
emphasizes that senior executives need not just quantitative skills but
"qualitative and creative" skills and "creative judgment," and feels
reading and writing poetry is a route to developing those capabilities.
Indeed, poetry may be an even better tool for developing creativity than
conventional fiction. Clare Morgan, in her book What Poetry Brings to Business,
cites a study showing that poems caused readers to generate nearly
twice as many alternative meanings as "stories," and poetry readers
further developed greater "self-monitoring" strategies that enhanced the
efficacy of their thinking processes. These creative capabilities can
help executives keep their organizations entrepreneurial, draw
imaginative solutions, and navigate disruptive environments where data
alone are insufficient to make progress.
can teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning. A challenge in
modern management can be to keep ourselves and our colleagues invested
with wonder and purpose. AsSimon Sinek and
others have documented, the best companies and people never lose a
sense of why they do what they do. Neither do poets. In her Nobel
lecture "The Poet and the World," Wislawa Szymborska writes:
The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence ... is astonishing ...
Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we
all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the
ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where
every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone
and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night
after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence
in this world.
if we professionals cultivated a similar outlook? We might find our
colleagues more hopeful and purposeful and our work revitalized with
more surprise, meaning, and beauty.
Poetry isn't a
one-size-fits-all solution to every business problem. There are plenty
of business leaders who've never read poetry and have been wholly
successful. But to those open to it, reading and writing poetry can be a
valuable component of leadership development.