Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Poetry Stretch - Labor

In a speech given at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked students "What Is Your Life's Blueprint?". In this speech he said the following about work.
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
With Labor Day just one week away, I thought this would be a good time to celebrate those who work day in and day out, without fanfare, without accolades, and often, without notice. I'd like to celebrate those who do the jobs that few of us are inclined to do. I can't imagine where we would be without them.

I hope you'll write about labor this week. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


  1. I wrote this in January, but it says everything I believe in--that whatever you labor at, do it withy passion:

    Resolved: Combustion

    "Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion.
    You must set yourself on fire." Arnold H. Glasow

    First find the right tinder,
    a handful of dry grass,
    the idea of the poem, piecemeal,
    shaggy, rough, flaking in the hand.
    A bit of flint next, the hard idea,
    needing something striking at the core.
    Find a stick, not for poking about with,
    that will come later in the revision,
    but a place to cradle the nascent flame.
    Then blow. Oh—wait,
    your hot air is not regulated enough.
    You might put the small spark out
    with too quick, too percussive a blow.
    Thrust the ember into the pith,
    into the heart of the poem.
    Feel the heat of it, browning the edges,
    curling, curing, curating your lines.
    Now you are ready, the fire is set.
    Breath deep, steady, passionately slow.
    Blow yourself apart.

    ©2013N Jane Yolen Huffington Post

  2. I like it all, Jane, but especially the title!


    I sit at a computer.
    Stare into space.
    Read a little.
    Write a paragraph.
    Write another one.
    Write some notes
    about writing another.
    Write a poem instead.

    And in my head
    I am clothed in sweat,
    lifting a heavy hammer
    like I’m John Henry,
    pounding viewless views
    and soundless sounds
    into the ground, pinning
    life like a wrestler.

    Or I am perched
    at a loom, or at a tailor’s
    bench, heaving lines
    like a sailor, shaping
    leather, or maybe
    I’m a milliner decorating
    a tall hat with feathers.

    Making something,
    we are all making
    something, even I
    am making something,
    sitting at my computer,
    staring into space.

    —Kate Coombs, 2013
    all rights reserved

  3. *I love these, Jane and Kate! I have a haiku:


    On Labor Day, all
    work is noble. The rest of
    the year, it's just work.

    Copyright © 2013 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I'm late with this but enjoy nevertheless.

    I watch our school custodian Mr. Reese throughout my
    Daily trips within these 4 walls of education.
    Picking up trash students toss on the floor.
    Checking thermostats, making sure our school spirits are
    Fully heated or cooled. Sneaking in a sandwich munch on
    His break before mopping lunch room floors, vacuuming
    Hallways after school within the din of Spanish Club
    Meetings or debate club get-togethers. Frowning when
    Students make fun of his tattered, grease stained jeans,
    Oversized, faded glasses which make his eyes bug out
    Like 2 dark moons, wrinkled white shirt with brown strips
    That has his first name ELMORE stitched in. “Elllmooore”
    People whisper behind his back giggling as they sprint
    Away in packs. A knot would twist in my stomach every
    Time I wanted to say something to them. Say that if it
    Wasn’t for Mr. Reese our school would look about as clean as A Chicken coop. Ask them would they speak to their parents or Grandparents that way? When the last day of school arrived
    I walked up, handed him a card, said “Here you go.” Then
    Scattered away like a jackrabbit. I peeked around corner as
    He read the card which stated Thank you for all your hard work this year. He put it in his pocket, looked up, smiled,
    His glasses shining against the fluorescent lights he installed 9 months ago.

    (c) Charles Waters 2013 all rights reserved.