Jules Mann - Posting #3

The great poets are not in the language but in business

because what poet can make cut production costs equal

infinite compassion, offhand, in a matter of fact way

and in a tone that excludes misunderstanding?

From 'poetry paper' by Andrei Codrescu 

All are 'working' voices. This reflects my preoccupation with Work as a power-line for language. When a sewage worker talks of liquid being 'clarified', when a fisheries officer talks of the water 'riffling' or a stone-waller says 'scrudging', those words have never had such flare.
Alice Oswald, in her report on the River Dart project

December 10th 1999

Poetry and Business

I sat in on a recent 'Poetry Drop-In', a regular meeting as part of the Poet in The City project (link to John Mole's delightful report). Promptly at 6:30 pm, I witnessed a collection of solicitors, business administrators, secretaries, and other familiar figures from London's financial district transform into a Tuesday evening poetry group. Books in hand, waiting their turn to read aloud their favourite - or their own - poem on a particular theme... quoting passages by memory and contributing to general discussions about poetry.

What's significant about this is the non-phobia about poetry going on. Though almost none professed to be a published poet, all present appreciated reading poetry. What struck me most was the friendliness and energy in the room - no competitiveness, no 'politicking', no sense of success or failure - just sharing favourite or newly discovered works while poet John Mole's presence helped to focus and enlarge the discussion. I think any future poet-in-business project should take note of cultivating readers of poetry, not just writers of poetry.

Regarding the world of business and poetry, I spoke recently with Elizabeth Wild of ARCO (which hosted the placement of Andrew Fusek Peters in the Thames ARCO project), who is keen to recommend the experience to any company. She referred to a book by business guru Charles Handy titled 'The New Alchemists', which indicates that leading business are thinking more about motivation, and ways of encouraging creativity and not stifling it. Handy notes a trend towards many more workshops and courses on how to stimulate creativity... perhaps poetry could be worked in there somehow?

We discussed how to approach poets-in-business projects beyond the Poetry Society's A4E Lottery funding, and agreed that the key steps for a business to fund and administrate a project on their own would require the following key elements:

1.Approaching Literature Officers within Regional Arts Boards I've been calling around to the various RAB's and find an amazingly accessible resource of information advice - local knowledge about poets and literature organisations and writers/readers groups and library networks - which would help give any business a concrete starting point for arts sponsorship, poetry residencies, one-off writing workshops, etc.
2.Put together a 'package' promoting the idea to business colleagues. Selling points:
- Not much £ involved for what you get
- Good publicity
- Employees benefit
- Community benefits
3.Develop access to and for poets - work with a local Literature Development worker to bring in the appropriate poet for the project; use audience development schemes to encourage employee participation.
We acknowledged that the company's community relations officer was also key to keeping the project visible. It would be important for any company to work through a representative pitching the idea internally and externally. As Elizabeth noted:

good ideas can't do much harm;
poetry doesn't cost much;
it is fun, and nice for employees;
workers enjoy artists;
it brings benefits to everybody and is especially effective when education/school is involved;
the local media (which businesses have direct and regular contact with anyway) loves strange & wacky stories;
it involves little 'extra' work for the community relations officer - i.e. it fits into their general scheme of work anyway, and just takes a bit of time and liaison skills.
Another discussion I had with a business consultant is that in business there are diversified channels of communication but it all boils down to the same words, and the power of words is as potent as ever. There is a demand for less language - i.e. succinctness is everything - but are people well-equipped to deliver that? His idea is to give employees extra ammunition in crunching language down by contracting poets to provide a variety of tools and ideas. (e.g. brevity and new angles). Because the purpose is so business-focused, his idea of poet-in-residence is less on the creative end and more for the purpose of teaching business-people skills for better writing.

Rather than assuming support for these potential poet-in-businesses to come out of Arts, Sponsorship or Community funds, we should consider packaging these projects as 'poets = better business'. By proving that poets can help in skills development, support can come from a company's Training or Human Resources budgets, which are exponentially bigger in large companies.

Of course, it also comes down to the right fit of poet to business.

Meanwhile, these poetry-in-business ideas will begin to compost as The Poetry Society puts together its 'Poetry Strategy' to aid future poetry-residence seekers.

Transcripts are still coming in from the Poetry as Public Art event at the British Library and Poets in Cyberspace, so be sure to visit those sites.