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Poetry in work

Workers in an office

Poetry Foundation

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Kai Ryssdal: We've spent the past couple of Mondays on a special project. The poetry of all things economic: money and jobs and businesses. And when we asked for your favorites the responses came pouring in. So instead of just one, we are going to hear three different poems today. They're all about the same thing, though. Work. Those who over do it, those who under do it, and those who can't afford not to do it. David Tucker's "Downsizing" explores the lead up to a lay off.

DAVID TUCKER:

"Downsizing"
Rumors are getting around, you've heard them.
Little things in the hallway.
One too many jokes about the company stock.
And the bosses whispering at the water cooler.
Notice the secretaries.
How little they talk now.
They always know.
And the offices upstairs stay lit all night.
And don't tell me it means nothing that the junior executives who hate each other are going to lunch together.
It won't be long.

Some lucky bastard is about to get fired.

That's David Tucker reading "Downsizing" from the collection "Late for Work," published in 2006. Thirty years ago Pedro Pietri wrote about a nearly universal experience, those days when you just don't have any work in you. Here's "Telephone Booth Number 905-1/2."

PEDRO PIETRI:

"Telephone Booth Number 905-1/2"

Woke up this morning feeling excellent.
Picked up the telephone, dialed a number of my equal-opportunity employer to inform him I will not be going in to work today.
Are you feeling sick the boss asked me.
No sir, I replied. I am feeling too good to report to work today.

If I feel sick tomorrow I will come in early.

That was the late Pedro Pietri reading "Telephone Booth Number 905 1/2." There's nothing new about waking up feeling too good to work. That may have been the case for the men at play in Sarah Cleghorn's "The Golf Links." Published in 1916, it describes watching a day off from the outside in.

KATHA POLLITT:

"The Golf Links"
The golf links lie so near the mill,
That almost every day,

The laboring children can look out,

And see the men at play.

RYSSDAL: That was poet and columnist Katha Pollitt reading Sarah Cleghorn's "The Golf Links." Coming up next week, how a poem helps one listener put the recession into perspective.


Copyright 2006 by David Tucker. Reprinted from "Late for Work," published by Houghton Mifflin, with permission from David Tucker.

"Telephone Booth Number 905 ½" by Pedro Pietri from the recording entitled 'Loose Joints: Poetry by Pedro Pietri' (FW09722), courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (www.folkways.si.edu).

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