How poetry made my corporate work great


For six and a half years, I was a technical writer and senior technical writer at a Fortune 1000 company. I worked hard, I sank into the corporate mold, and it paid off my bills. It also made me miserable. So after I finished my graduate studies and came back to Corporate America, I was dreading it. But it was above all the poetry that facilitated the transition.

Technical writing isn’t stressful, but it’s not the most exciting job in the world. I edited forms, training materials, internal and external communications, and basically brought corporate style and grammar to the documentation. My team was small and underrated. The healthcare company I worked for cared less about patients than about profits. When the opportunity to leave Corporate America and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.

Fast forward two and a half years to December 2020. My thesis defense was approaching. As a follow-up to the deal my wife and I made when I started my MFA, I started applying for jobs. I sent my CV to nonprofits, publishing houses, small publishers, and a few other employers that got me excited. I did not hear anything. Knowing that this was the bulk of my corporate experience, I also applied for technical writing positions. Wouldn’t you know, another healthcare company looking for a tech writer came to call them.

Before this first interview, I was nervous. Not for the interview itself, but the prospect of potentially returning to a similar position that I had left. I didn’t want to do more work that didn’t hire me just to enrich someone else. But I needed a job, to go back there and pay the bills. I landed the job and started the weird process of virtual learning about new business, colleagues, and systems.

As part of the process, I was assigned another technical writer to review my work. When I revealed that in addition to writing fiction, I am a poet, his eyes lit up. Him too. And we weren’t the only ones. He invited me to a Microsoft Teams chat channel where we talk about poetry. Then he launched a poetry challenge. It was something about the post-vacation lull. During the week the three of us in the chat all wrote up and shared our challenge-based poems.

Admittedly, I found it difficult to write poetry outside of the school’s poetry workshops. I found it easy to write my latest book daily, but the mental shift required for poetry was not happening. But now I had a forum. A prompt. And a pair of colleagues, relatively unknown to me at the time, with nothing but encouragement.

Half of the vacation spent,

trap

in the less festive cousin of winter, mid

January. Little lights twinkle

off, although Instacart’s shuffle,

Amazon, Postmates and Doordash

keep the pantry full and the pandemic

at the bay. Snow spots, leftovers

from a winter feast, vitiligo

lawns, waiting for the next one

lightning meal to come.

Barely more than a first draft, it was strange to share it. Unlike most of my poems, it had nothing to do with politics or growing up intersex. But it was still a work environment. These were coworkers, not close friends or the uncontrollable environment of a newspaper or literary studio. And it was deliciously liberating and satisfying.

The three of us shot, offering challenges and prompts to poetry. Sometimes it was to use a specific word or phrase. Sometimes to write about a particular feeling. An image of a birdhouse in a field. Specific forms of poetry like the ghazal or the sonnet. In the depths of learning a new style guide and the myriad of systems we use to do our work, I was carried by these poetic stays.

We have shared dozens of poems with each other. We have suggested books to each other, especially during August and the Sealey Challenge. Last month a friend of mine from graduate school joined our technical writing team. She is also a poet and was welcomed into our small group. As if it couldn’t get better.

At least five of these books have been recommended by colleagues

Almost a year in the new job, doesn’t feel like the last time. The company is more focused on patient outcomes than my previous employer. There are eight teams of technical writers and an obvious investment in good writing. My team members and my boss are cool. I am not unhappy. And this little group of poetry gives me life and makes me want to connect with work every day. It is priceless.


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