The Friday Poem ‘Night Journey’ by Theodore Roethke

We will catch our breath if only we can make it to the holiday weekend. Rushing from work to catch the train, bus or plane we are singularly focused on our destination.

The Friday Poem this week comes from poet Theodore Roethke. ‘Night Journey’ from his ‘Collected Poems’ is a reminder to look out the window and take in the view.

“I stay up half the night. To see the land I love.”

“Poet and writer James Dickey once named Roethke the greatest of all American poets: “I don’t see anyone else that has the kind of deep, gut vitality that Roethke’s got. Whitman was a great poet, but he’s no competition for Roethke.”

The publication of Collected Poems in 1966 brought renewed interest in Roethke and prompted illuminating overviews of his work.”

Night Journey

Now as the train bears west,
Its rhythm rocks the earth,
And from my Pullman berth
I stare into the night
While others take their rest.
Bridges of iron lace,
A suddenness of trees,
A lap of mountain mist
All cross my line of sight,
Then a bleak wasted place,
And a lake below my knees.
Full on my neck I feel
The straining at a curve;
My muscles move with steel,
I wake in every nerve.
I watch a beacon swing
From dark to blazing bright;
We thunder through ravines
And gullies washed with light.
Beyond the mountain pass
Mist deepens on the pane;
We rush into a rain
That rattles double glass.
Wheels shake the roadbed stone,
The pistons jerk and shove,
I stay up half the night.
To see the land I love.

Theodore Roethke from ‘Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems’


The Holiday Read ‘Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon’ by Larry Tye

Biographies are the stories of career transition. When we make a selection from a bookstore, library or electronic shelf we may not be seeking the secret to success. We may not even be thinking about work and career. A life story well told is one that surprises the reader with the unexpected; previously unknown challenges faced, and career crises resolved.

The ‘holiday read’ recommendation this season is the new biography of Bobby Kennedy by Larry Tye. It’s a life story well told, of someone we thought we knew.

If the current political landscape seems bleak, this trip back to 1950’s-1960’s America will frame the present within the historical context of our not too distant past. And perhaps offer a bit of hope.

Bobby Kennedy’s story is a career story that begins, as many do, following the expectations of others. At age 38 the carefully constructed career scaffolding collapsed and he faced a decision, what should I do with my life?

“He had spent the first twenty-five years with the world seeing him as Joe Kennedy’s boy, and the next dozen as John Kennedy’s brother. Now he would be his own man, one who was both more tempered and fiercer.”

The narrative reflects these two career/life phases. The first six chapters explore the less familiar territory of Bobby Kennedy, “…nurtured on the rightist orthodoxies of his dynasty-building father and started his public life as counsel to the left-baiting, table-thumping senator Joseph McCarthy. That younger RFK was a bare-knuckled political operative who masterminded his brother’s whatever-it-takes bids for senator and president.”

The remaining chapters relate the story of a man plotting a career path apart from the influence of his father and older brother.

The trauma of assassination “had loosed Bobby’s moorings, quelled his passions, and made him question even his faith…The values and qualities that would define him were present from the beginning, but they fully bloomed only after his father’s disability and his brother’s death…Now this man so shaped by others was reshaping himself, the way the existentialists said he could. He could finally ask what he wanted and needed. His public persona began to reflect the gentleness that family and friends say they had always known.”

In 1964 Bobby Kennedy was at that point we may recognize from personal experience. “The breadth of the choices he was weighing reflected the reality that for the first time, he didn’t know what he should do…He was also self-aware enough to realize the implausibility of his impasse: “It’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it? Thirty-eight years old and no place to go.””

Public service had driven his decisions in the past and on August 25, 1964 he embarked on the next stage of his career, announcing a run for senate from the State of New York.

Trailing in the polls, accused of being a ‘carpetbagger’, on October 5, he addressed “more than two thousand people at Columbia University’s Wollman Auditorium…Standing onstage alone in the glaring TV lights, a microphone in his hand, he looked younger and smaller than the student interrogators who threw him one hardball question after another for eighty-five minutes… His audience was filled with students from the most politically active generation ever in America, who four years later would help ignite the nation in protest over everything from the war in Vietnam to crumbling U.S. ghettos. For now, these fans of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones sensed that Bobby was as authentic as a politician got.”

On November 3, Kennedy won the election, making history. “The Kennedys were the first family ever to send three brothers to the U.S. Senate, and the second to have brothers serving simultaneously…”

His senate career represented a historical catalog of the social issues facing the country: civil rights, anti-poverty programs, and eventual opposition to the Vietnam war.

“The senator from New York’s involvement with the Republic of South Africa was different. Unlike Vietnam, it didn’t matter to the White House or to most Americans. And in South Africa, it wasn’t Bobby but millions of oppressed blacks and thousands of their white allies who were desperate to speak our but had gagged themselves for fear of the consequences. Traveling there in 1966, Bobby gave them a voice in a way that nobody else had. The trip also freed him from the politics that clouded everything he did in America and brought him back to first principles.”

Once again, it was a crowd of university students at the University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966 that provided him a platform to deliver one of his most memorable speeches, ‘The Ripple of Hope’.

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice. He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”

Larry Tye’s biography doesn’t dwell on the familiar in Bobby Kennedy’s history. He doesn’t rehash the work of previous biographers. What he delivers to readers is a life story, illuminated by contemporary journalists’ coverage, informed by historical fact, and imbued with Kennedy’s ceaseless career passion as an advocate for those with no representation.

“Bobby was a shaker-upper dedicated to the art of the possible. That he could change so substantially and convincingly over the course of his brief public life helped restore a changing America’s faith in redemption. In the end he could become this nation’s high priest of reconciliation precisely because he had once been the keeper of our darkest seekers.”

Spend your holiday with ‘Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon’ and restore your belief in “the art of the possible”.



The Friday Poem ‘Introduction to Poetry’ by Billy Collins

When I first started ‘workthoughts’ almost two years ago, I wanted to include a weekly poem or lyric. A colleague had once shared her secret of success@work, “I start my day reading a poem”.

I believe we all become a bit more creative when we discover the world through a poet’s eyes. Why don’t more of us include poetry in our work lives?

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins shared his opinion in an interview to Ben Yakas of

“…the teaching of poetry is often brutally centered on interpretation. This gives teachers power because they kind of “know the answer.” And I think there’s a streak of sadism in it as well as they watch students get the wrong answer by guessing.”

In October, Mr. Collins published his 12th book of poetry, ‘The Rain in Portugal’. The Friday Poem this week is from his first collection, ‘The Apple That Astonished Paris’, and is for all of you whose early love of poetry was extinguished by an overzealous pursuit of analysis.

Introduction to Poetry 

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins from ‘The Apple That Astonished Paris’ 1988


The week@work – U.S. unemployment at nine year low, Rosberg and Schultz exit roles on top, and “mother nature needs her daughters”

If you weren’t paying attention, you would have thought the major story this week@work was about the 800 folks who will retain positions at Carrier, a division of United Technologies. You might have missed the news that U.S. unemployment reached a nine year low @4.6%, adding 178,000 jobs in November.

In ‘departures’, newly crowned Formula One champion, Nico Rosberg announced his retirement and Starbuck chief, Howard Schultz, will be stepping down from his position next year.  Seventy-six women scientists have embarked on an expedition to Antarctica to focus on climate change and women who work in the sciences.

Ana Swanson reported on the U.S. unemployment news for The Washington Post, Wonkblog.

“Data released on Friday showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate from 4.9 percent the previous month, driven partly by the creation of new jobs and partly by people retiring and otherwise leaving the labor force.

A broader measure of unemployment, the U-6 rate, which includes those who have given up looking for work and part-time workers who would like to have full-time jobs, fell to 9.3 percent, the lowest reading since April 2008. The figure still remains elevated from average levels in the 2000s.”

Paul Weaver covered the announcement of F1 champion, Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing five days after capturing the title for The Guardian.


“Nico Rosberg has stunned Formula One by announcing his retirement, just five days after the 31-year-old became the sport’s world champion…

He said he had “climbed my mountain”. Now he is going out at the peak.

Rosberg said he first started thinking about retiring when he won the Japanese Grand Prix in early October and realised the title was within his grasp. “From the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became world champion,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page announcing his departure.”

At the other end of the career spectrum, the visionary leader of Starbucks, Howard Schultz announced he will be stepping away from his leadership position at the company he joined in 1982. Andrew Ross Sorkin reported on the change at the top for The New York Times.

“I wanted to build the company my father never got to work for,” he said.


At an all-hands employee meeting at the company’s headquarters on Thursday, Mr. Schultz was greeted with tears and a standing ovation. “For me, perhaps there are other things that are part of my destiny,” he told them.”

Mr. Schultz said he intends for Starbucks to “maintain our moral courage.” And he defended efforts like the company’s “Race Together” campaign to spur a conversation about race relations, saying that it “was not a failure. I’d do it again.” He said such campaigns are deeply embedded in the company’s brand of “challenging the status quo about the role of a public company.” He is excited by the question, “Since we have stores in every community in America, how can we use our scale for good?”

How do folks successfully transition from one phase of their work life to the next?

Adam Bryant‘s ‘Corner Office’ interview with Nyansa chief executive, Abe Ankumah provides a hint.

“Be a lifelong student. That doesn’t mean go enroll in a bunch of classes all the time. It’s a mind-set. It means continuing to push yourself to learn rather than saying, “I’ve got this degree in this, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The other thing is not to become too comfortable in a role. Chances are that if you’re comfortable, you’re not learning, you’re not pushing the envelope and you’re probably going to get stagnated.”

The last story this week@work is an example of pushing the envelope, for the greater good.

On Thursday I received a tweet from BBC Australia about an expedition of women scientists traveling to Antarctica. The tag line of their sponsor, ‘Homeward Bound’, is “mother nature needs her daughters”.


From the BBC  Australia story – “They call Ushuaia, a cold and windy port city in Argentina, the end of the world.

It’s from here that the largest ever all-female expedition to Antarctica will depart, with more than 70 women with backgrounds in science set to spend 20 days at sea.

The voyage is part of the Homeward Bound initiative, an Australian programme aimed at increasing the representation of women in top science jobs across the globe.

“We’re missing half the voice at the leadership table,” says Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas, who along with entrepreneur and management expert Fabian Dattner, came up with the idea.

The pair met during a leadership development course run by Dattner, and their frustration at the challenges faced by women in science quickly became a bold idea.

Two years later, the first of what is hoped to be several voyages is about to depart.”

We talk a lot about ‘dream jobs’ and whether ‘finding your passion’ is attainable. For those of you skeptics out there, I close with the closing paragraphs of Fabian Dattner‘s blog post, co-founder of Homeward Bound, who as I write is on her journey south.

“So, right now as I work with a group of leaders in my day job, my mind wanders effortlessly to what lies ahead – now only a few sleeps away – and I am finally lost for words, carried forward – as with all the people involved – on a deeply felt sense of rightness: right purpose, right time, right people, right outcome.

I know what ‘flow’ means now; I know what purpose, autonomy and freedom mean. I know what it means to lead and be led. And I know in my bones what is possible for humans, when leaders act on behalf of the greater good.

Stay with us on this journey. It’s for all of us.”  @HomewardBound16


Photo credits: Antarctica expedition – Homeward Bound, Kevin Johnson/Howard Schultz -Starbucks Newsroom

The Friday Poem ‘Voice’ by Jeffrey Brown


Walking west on 40th Street, between 7th & 8th, you pass the entrance to the CCNY Graduate School of Journalism. In the space of a city block, those aspiring to pursue a career reporting the news, cross paths with the the best in the field @work in The New York Times building.

There was a time when the most trusted man in America was a television journalist. Today, journalists across the globe find themselves at risk when reporting the truth. ‘Fake news’ sites proliferate where fiction replaces fact.

Lost in the cacophony of the latest news cycle is the value professional journalists provide in our society; collecting and communicating information that empowers the rest of us to make the best decisions.

This week, The Friday Poem is for those who follow their dream to newsrooms around the corner, and around the world. ‘Voice’ was written by NPR journalist and poet, Jeffrey Brown.


for Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer

There are those with a voice so rich,

so bell-strong, time chiseled, and alive

they can read the phone book and

you will hear the deeds and failings

in every name, the laughter and wailing

of ghosts who inhabit each address,

the infinite possibility


in every number. There are those

with a voice that rich, he says –

the lucky ones. But that is not us.

We open our mouths and out comes a

small, high sound, cracking midsentence,

straining to tell the story we know

to be true. There are things you can do:


Learn to breathe. Stand up straight and

let the air flow through you, belly to

chest and into the mask of your face.

Take a bit of chocolate, sip on your

coffee – excite the senses. Imagine

the people in their hoes hungry for

dinner and for news of the world.


Underline phrases, emphasize what

should be emphasized, diminish

the less important. Decide what is

important. Be sure you understand

the meaning of what you are to say.

Do not yell, do not whisper, look ahead,

not down, fill your lungs, open your mouth


and speak. The Zen master says “You

find your voice when you find yourself.”

But that, too, is not for us. (Who knows

What else you’ll find there? he laughs).

Better to listen to that voice

as though from afar, as though it

is not yours. Then speak again.

Jeffrey Brown from ‘The News:Poems’ 2015