#WorldPoetryDay ‘Poetry Is a Sickness’ by Ed Bok Lee

Today is World Poetry Day, a day to honor poets and global oral traditions. It was initially established by UNESCO in 1999.

“Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures. In celebrating World Poetry Day, March 21, UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.” 

To celebrate #WorldPoetryDay, and recognize the work of the global community of poets spend a few minutes with the words of St. Paul, Minnesota based poet Ed Bok Lee, and his poem ‘Poetry is a Sickness’.

Poetry Is a Sickness

You write not what you want,
but what flaws flower from rust

You want to write about the universe,
how the stars are really tiny palpitating ancestor hearts
watching over us

and instead what you get on the page
is that car crash on Fourth and Broadway—
the wails of the girlfriend or widow,
her long lamentation so sensuous
in terrible harmony with sirens in the distance

Poetry is a sickness

You want to write about Adoration,
the glistening sweat on your honey’s chest
in which you’ve tasted the sun’s caress,
and instead what you get
is a poem about the first of four times
your mother and father split up

Want to write about the perfection of God
and end up with just another story
of a uniquely lonely childhood

If I had a dime for every happy poem I wrote
I’d be dead

Want to write about the war, oppression, injustice,
and look here, see, what got left behind
when all the sand and dust cleared
is the puke-green carpet in the Harbor Lights Salvation Army treatment center
A skinny Native girl no older than seventeen
braids the reddish hair
of her little four- or five-year-old Down’s Syndrome daughter

Outside, no blinking stars
No holy kiss’s approach
Only a vague antiseptic odor and Christian crest on the wall staring back at you

I didn’t say all this to that dude who sent me his poems
from prison

You want everyone to feel empowered
Want them to believe there is beauty locked in amber
inside each of us, and you chip away at that shit
one word at a time
You stampede with verbs, nouns, and scalpel adjectives
Middle-finger your literalist boss
Blow grocery cash on library fines
Sprain your left knee loading pallets all day for Labor Ready
You live in an attic for nine years
You go bankrupt
You smoke too much

Drink too much
Alienate family and friends
Say yes, poetry is a sickness, but fuck it
Do it long enough, and I promise like an anti-superhero
your secret power will become loss

Loss like only old people must know
when the last red maple on the block goes

and the drizzle turns to snow

Maybe the best poem is always the one you shouldn’t have written

The ghazal that bled your index finger
Or caused your sister to reject your calls for a year
The sonnet that made the woman you loved fear
That slam poem you’re still paying for
The triolet that smiled to violate you
through both ears

But Poet, Sucker, Fool
It’s your job
to find meaning in all this because
you are delusional enough to believe
that, yes, poetry is a sickness,
but somehow if you can just scrape together enough beauty and truth

to recall, yes, that Broadway car crash was fucked up,
but the way the rain fell to wash away the blood
not ten minutes after the ambulance left
was gorgeous

Or how maybe your mother and father would sometimes scream,
but also wrapped never-before-seen tropical
fruit for one another every Xmas Eve

How in the morning before opting out I watched
that tiny Native girl fumbling
to braid her own and her now-
snoring mother’s long black hair
together
in a single cornrow—

If I can just always squiggle
down like this:
even half as much
as what I’d otherwise need
to forget

maybe these scales
really will one day tip
to find each flaw that made us

Exquisite

 

Ed Bok Lee     ‘Whorled’   2011
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The Saturday Read ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson

The Saturday Read returns! The first selection of 2018 is the biography, ‘Leonardo da Vinci‘ by Walter Isaacson. This is a life story disguised as an art book translating the fifteenth century wisdom of a genius into the language of our present day innovation canon.

What is it about Leonardo that resonates with us over five hundred years later?

“The fifteenth century of Leonardo and Columbus and Gutenberg was a time of invention, exploration, and the spread of knowledge by new technologies. In short, it was a time like our own. That is why we have so much to learn from Leonardo. His ability to combine art, science, technology, the humanities and imagination remains an enduring recipe for creativity.”

The narrative of the polymath has captivated Isaacson in all his previous work. In ‘da Vinci’ he has found the origin story and he’s the perfect narrator to introduce a twenty-first century audience to the man “who never outgrew his wonder years.”

If you are a person who is intimidated by a 500+ page doorstop of a book, don’t be. Leonardo’s fifteenth century artwork, notebook transcripts, sketches and drawings engage with the text to guide the reader through the history, culture and political upheaval of Milan, Florence, Rome and France.

If you are one of the thousands who have traveled to the Louvre… IMG_5851.jpg

to catch a brief glimpse of the Mona Lisa…mona lisa

this is the backstory. Isaacson devotes a chapter near the end of the book to the portrait, describing Leonardo’s work process. “He began working on it in 1503, when he returned to Florence after serving Cesare Borgia. But he had not finished it when he moved back to Milan in 1506. In fact, he carried it with him, and continued to work on it, throughout his second period in Milan and then during his three years in Rome. He would even take it to France on the final leg of his life journey, adding tiny strokes and light layers through 1517. It would be in his studio there when he died.”

I read the biography over four weeks, one chapter at a time, alternating with other reading. It gave me time to reflect on the multiple aspects of his genius and connect Leonardo’s behavior with what I have read over the years in hundreds of Harvard Business Review articles on the topic of innovation.

My non-fiction book club had selected ‘da Vinci’ as the January choice. The discussion centered on the aspects of math, science and art; each member commenting from their frame of reference. Finally, I added my view through the lens of @workthoughts. This is a book that advocates for the generalist vs. the specialist. In many aspects it’s a career guide. Imagine an extended conversation with a mentor tracing their work/life trajectory.

Isaacson concludes with ‘Learning from Leonardo’, beginning with some familiar basics of twenty-first century theories of creativity. A sampling: “Be curious, relentlessly curious”. “Seek knowledge for its own sake.” “Observe.”Get distracted.” “Avoid silos.” “Take notes, on paper.” “Be open to mystery.” There’s more. Shadowing each of these ‘lessons’ is the story of Leonardo and his exploration of man and nature; his evolution, still tinkering with the Mona Lisa at the time of his death.

‘Leonardo da Vinci’ is your ‘professional development book’ of the year. It will break you out of your ‘career specialization rut’, opening your eyes to the ‘dots’ you didn’t even know you could connect.

If you make one bookstore purchase, continue your life-long learning with this one. “Let your reach exceed your grasp.”

Leonardo’s most important lesson for our times – “Respect facts.” Never stop asking questions.

“Above all, Leonardo’s relentless curiosity and experimentation should remind us of the importance of instilling, in both ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it – to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.”

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

I saw the hat first, ‘A.HAM’ emblazoned on its crown. In the midst of the crowds converging on the campus of the University of Southern California last weekend for the LA Times Festival of Books, a student and her parents were headed to an open house hosted by the School of Dramatic Arts. The black and gold logo was a reminder that the phenomena that is ‘Hamilton’ continues to spark the dreams of the aspiring actor, striving historian, and would-be composer.

First there was Ron Chernow‘s 2004 book, ‘Alexander Hamilton’. Last summer, ‘Hamilton’, the musical debuted on Broadway. In February, the original cast recording won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. This week the ‘Hamiltome’ arrived in bookstores and immediately sold out on Amazon. The Saturday Read is ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.

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In 2007 Jeremy McCarter, then drama critic for New York Magazine, reviewed a new play, ‘In The Heights’ and posed the question “Could musicals actually be adapting to a new century’s audience?”

“The most obvious of the show’s many virtues is that it doesn’t sound like the half-assed pseudo-pop that clutters up Broadway. Miranda’s score is rich and kaleidoscopic, as it needs to be.”

In the Introduction to ‘HTR’, Mr. McCarter reflects on his time at New York Magazine and his frustration with lack of interest in the possibilities of hip-hop.

“After many disappointments and false alarms, Heights had made me sit up in my aisle seat: Here’s the guy. Lin’s show about immigration in Upper Manhattan fused salsa, hip-hop, and traditional Broadway ballads to make something old and new, familiar and surprising. Best of all, he made the leap that virtually nobody else had made, using hip-hop to tell a story that had nothing to do with hip-hop – using it as form, not content.”

The writer, director and producer McCarter, who studied history at Harvard connected with the composer, lyricist, actor and Wesleyan alum, Miranda and began a collaboration that resulted in ‘Hamilton The Revolution’.

“It tells the story of two revolutions. There’s the American Revolution of the 18th century, which flares to life in Lin’s libretto, the complete text of which is published here, with his annotations. There’s also the revolution of the show itself: a musical that changes the way that Broadway sounds, and alters who gets to tell the story of our founding, that let’s us glimpse the new, more diverse America rushing our way.”

IMG_4314.jpgThe book is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the development of a musical. It’s a narrative of the creative process and a roadmap for future generations who will replicate the production on high school and summer stages.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Mr. McCarter stressed the importance of cataloging the moments from the first rap performance at the White House through the six years to opening night.

We wanted to “tell the story which is not about this historical fact or that historical fact, it’s about the emotional reality that these people were living through…This is not just what happened, but this is how it felt at the time. This is the experience that we all went through…So that ten years from now when kids are doing it they can pick up this book and say ‘Oh, that’s how they did it’, now I understand.”

Where do we find inspiration? It’s the curiosity thing. Mr.Miranda is the master of the inquisitive. And he seems to drawn on every life experience and relationship to connect the dots to his project. Here’s one example from the annotations to ‘You’ll Be Back’.

“I was having a drink with Hugh Laurie, with whom I’d worked on his series ‘House’, and I told him I wanted to write a breakup letter from King George to the colonies. Without blinking, he improv’d at me, “Awwww, you’ll be back,” wagging his finger. I laughed and filed it away. Thanks, Hugh Laurie.”

IMG_4308.jpgWe learn from the wisdom of others. ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ introduces us to a serious set of theater luminaries and traces each of their stories as the words and music evolve.

@work we casually use the buzz words creativity and innovation interchangeably. We imagine we are all curious, exemplars of transformational thinking. But most of us can’t reimagine our way out of our comfort zone. Creativity is hard work.

‘HTR’ is the story of a musical. Its value, for those who work outside the theater, is to show us where curiosity can lead and what creativity looks like.

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“The last song in the show captures the bitter historical truth that every one of Hamilton’s enemies outlived him, and they did all they could to efface his memory. By ending with Hamilton’s afterlife, not his death, the show asks us to think about what we leave behind when we’re gone: It invites us to think about legacies.”

When Ben Brantley reviewed the musical for the New York Times, he wrote “Hamilton” is, among other things, about who owns history, who gets to be in charge of the narrative.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter own ‘HTR’, their story, and leave no doubt about who is in charge of the narrative.

“Who tells your story?”

 

 

 

 

 

‘Chicago and December’ a poem by W.S. Di Piero

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Chicago and December’ by Stanford University Professor of English, Emeritus W.S. Di Piero.

In an interview with ‘McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’, the poet described the early influences in his writing.

“Writers are schooled by whatever they read. I took what was available. (Discovering the Philadelphia Free Library was enormous.) All writing occupied the same bandwidth—Freddy the Pig books, Kidnapped, Poe’s and Conan Doyle’s stories, and in particular, when I was very small, the Sears catalogs I studied on Sunday visits to relatives’ houses. I came to love reading about the old west—no kid in South Philadelphia knew more about Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, Doc Holliday. In high school I read Whitman—he was, still is, so strange, exasperatingly friendly, formidable. By the time I turned twenty-one, it was “sweet sounds together” that mattered. Sound is still important. Subject matter was (still is) whatever piece of life’s procession pauses in front of me (or behind my back).”

On this first Friday in December, take a break from work and visit Chicago as we accompany poet W. S. Di Piero on a walk from the Art Institute, across the river to Michigan Avenue.

Chicago and December

Trying to find my roost
one lidded, late afternoon,
the consolation of color
worked up like neediness,
like craving chocolate,
I’m at Art Institute favorites:
Velasquez’s “Servant,”
her bashful attention fixed
to place things just right,
Beckmann’s “Self-Portrait,”
whose fishy fingers seem
never to do a day’s work,
the great stone lions outside
monumentally pissed
by jumbo wreaths and ribbons
municipal good cheer
yoked around their heads.
Mealy mist. Furred air.
I walk north across
the river, Christmas lights
crushed on skyscraper glass,
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing
through the artless fog.
Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining,
and I’m in a moment
more like a fore-moment:
from the sidewalk, watching them
poised without purpose,
I feel lifted inside the common
hazards and orders of things
when from their stillness,
the formal, aimless, not-waiting birds
erupt again, clap, elated weather-
making wing-clouds changing,
smithereened back and forth,
now already gone to follow
the river’s running course.

W.S. Di Piero  Poetry Magazine, June 2006

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What if we approached job search as an adventure?

Take a minute to search the online dictionaries for a definition of the word ‘adventure’. All will include a version of “an ​unusual, ​exciting, and ​possibly ​dangerous ​activity, ​trip, or ​experience, or the ​excitement ​produced by such ​activities”. What if we approached our job search as an adventure?

There are bookcases full of career exploration guides and a plethora of simulation exercises marketed as navigational tools for the job seeker. The industry of career consulting has depreciated the complexity of vocational discovery and led folks to believe that career mysteries can be decoded with minimal effort.

It’s a cookie cutter approach assuming that we know what jobs are out there and know the skill set required for each. What we also know is that the world @work is volatile and many job titles have been retired along with their occupants and many more have evolved with the emergence of new employers.

If you frame your job search as an adventure, your expectations adjust to prepare for the unexpected. Your time frames align with reality. The anticipation of meeting new folks, cataloging what you still need to learn and testing your ambitions @work will catapult you out of bed each morning.

Where do you start? Select an individual who is known for their sense of adventure. Focus on the excitement vs. the danger. Why are they successful?

“To me, adventure has always been the connections and bonds you create with people when you’re there. And you can have that anywhere.” Bear Grylls

Start making the connections – scheduling conversations.The adventure is in the discovery of what you don’t know about work. It’s asking questions, listening and connecting the dots. As you accumulate knowledge, various scenarios begin to emerge in the experience of others.

It’s a lifetime commitment once you open the door to adventure.

Remember what Bilbo used to say: ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”” — J.R.R. Tolkien

The ‘gig economy’ and ‘the new romantics’

The ground is shifting the foundations of our world@work. New economic models are emerging of mosaic careers where freelancing is the predominant driver of income. In order to flourish workers will have to reimagine their life@work and add skills previously delivered through full time employers. This is the conversation that should be taking place in corporate boardrooms, university classrooms, state legislatures and presidential debates.

Don’t believe me? How did you get to work? Uber? Where did you stay on vacation? Airbnb?

The initial repercussions of the new world@work are being felt in the halls of justice as folks try to fit old definitions of work and workers into new, entrepreneurial business models.

Sarah Kessler writing for Fast Company summarized the dilemma.

“What’s at stake with these lawsuits and protests? The very definition of “employee” in a tech-enabled, service-driven 21st century American economy. Gig economy companies do not own cars, hotels, or even their workers’ cleaning supplies. What they own is a marketplace with two sides. On one side are people who need a job done—a ride to the airport, a clean house, a lunchtime delivery. On the other are people who are willing to do that job. If Uber and other companies are going to be as big as some claim, a new deal has to be brokered, one that squares the legal rules governing work with new products and services. What benefits can you expect from a quasi-employer? What does it mean to be both independent and tethered to an app-based company? The social contract between gig economy workers and employers is broken. Who will fix it, and how, will determine the fate of thousands of workers and hundreds of millions of dollars.”

James Surowiecki writing in The New Yorker described just how difficult it is to define the difference between an employee and an independent contractor.

“We hear a lot these days about the gig economy, but the issue of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor has been the subject of intense legal battles for decades. The distinction can be surprisingly hard to make. The I.R.S. has a list of twenty factors that it takes into account, but other federal agencies have different criteria, as do most states. The fundamental issue is usually whether an employer has “control” over the work being done, but defining control isn’t always easy.”

This is where it begins in the U.S., in the court system. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs will continue to connect clients with products and hire workers who will supplement their income performing a variety of part-time professional services. Eventually the laws will catch up with the workplace reality. But in the interim, universities have to decipher the emerging skill set and prepare the next generation of workers for success.

Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University in Boston conducted an informal survey of the university community, tweeting the question, “What skills will graduates need for success in the gig economy?”

“…we can see five skills that will be invaluable for thriving in the gig economy:

Generativity: How to create something unique, be it a product, a service, or an idea. E.g., coming up with the idea for a widget.

Entrepreneurship: How to spot an opportunity and act on it effectively. Discovering a market for widgets.

Originality: How to view an existing subject through an unexpected lens. Realizing that the widget can be made more sustainably from recycled water bottles.

Interdisciplinary thought: How to bridge concepts from different fields to form new ideas. Combining engineering and design so that the widget is not only functional, but beautiful.

Dealing with ambiguity: How to confidently address a problem with no clear solution, often by using a blend of experience, intuition, and grasp of human nature. Faced with plunging stock prices, reinventing the company as a widget-sharing app.”

The ‘new gig workers’ will also need a basic understanding of business law and finance. Arun Sundararajan writing in The Guardian assesses the micro and macro implications of the new model.

“There’s certainly something empowering about being your own boss. With the right mindset, you can achieve a better work-life balance. But there’s also something empowering about a steady pay cheque, fixed work hours and company-provided benefits. It’s harder to plan your life longer term when you don’t know how much money you’re going to be making next year.”

In many countries, key slices of the social safety net are tied to full-time employment with a company or the government. Although the broader socioeconomic effects of the gig economy are as yet unclear, it is clear we must rethink the provision of our safety net, decoupling it from salaried jobs and making it more readily available to independent workers.”

Fundamentally, the new ‘gig worker’ will focus on human interaction vs. transactional activities. We are back to the core curriculum of a liberal arts education. The lawyers, politicians and business folk will figure out the structure and protections. The humanists will find job security in the ‘gig economy’.

David Brooks writing in The New York Times imagines the new world@work.

“What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans?”

“Secure workers will combine technical knowledge with social awareness — the sort of thing you get from your genes, from growing up in a certain sort of family and by widening your repertoire of emotions through reflection, literature and a capacity for intimacy.”

“I could imagine a time when young thinkers discard the strictures of the academic professionalism and try to revive the model of the intellectual as secular sage. I could see other young people tiring of résumé-building do-goodism and trying to live more radically for the poor. The romantic tries as much as possible to ground his or her life in purer love that transforms — making him or her more inspired, creative and dedicated, and therefore better able to live as a modern instantiation of some ideal.”

Gig learning is lifelong learning. We will need leaders in both education and business who will welcome the feedback of their constituencies and be nimble in their response to a world@work that is driven by human interaction in the relational and supported by technology in the transactional.

The Power of Taking a Break & the Unexpected Inspiration of Reading

On Sunday tickets will go on sale for the musical ‘Hamilton’ as it moves from the Public Theater in New York to begin it’s Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers in mid July. It’s off Broadway performances which began last month, have received positive reviews from theater critics for its’ unique staging and musical interpretation of the life of Alexander Hamilton.

So why the theater update on a blog about work?  The New Yorker staff writer, Rebecca Mead answers in her profile of writer, composer and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was on vacation in Mexico 2009 “…and while bobbing in the pool on an inflatable lounger he started to read a book that he bought on impulse: Ron Chernow’s eight-hundred-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda was seized by the story of Hamilton’s early life. Born out of wedlock, raised in poverty in St. Croix, abandoned by his father, and orphaned by his mother as a child, Hamilton transplanted himself as an adolescent to a New York City filled with revolutionary fervor…”

If Mr. Miranda had not been on vacation, taking time away from work, we may have been deprived of his creativity and ability to connect the dots as he developed his perspective for the play: “Miranda saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens. It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, and immigrant’s story.”

Ms. Mead’s article tells the story of the evolution of Mr. Miranda’s career, the development of ‘Hamilton’, and the connections he has made along the way with mentors and creative partnerships.

Sometimes we think creativity belongs to the artist and we struggle to find opportunities to relate to our own workplace. But creativity is about imagination and storytelling our way to solving a problem.  Taking time away allows for a different view. If we are open to the unexpected we can connect the dots and reframe the narrative. And, maybe be online Sunday to buy tickets and see how it’s done.