Friday, September 4, 2009

Poetry Friday: In Honor of Labor Day

So, it’s Labor Day Weekend. The word “labor” has a lot of negative connotations, don’t you think?

Giving birth requires labor. Hercules was forced to perform twelve sweaty, back-breaking labors that involved slaying, stealing, or capturing various monsters and things. The Department of Labor has to deal with all kinds of negative numbers these days.

I like the word “work” better. I think most writers do. After all, we talk about our latest “work” and famous writers get to put out collections of their “complete works.” But “Work Day Weekend” just doesn’t have the same ring to it just like “The Complete Labors of John Updike” sounds a bit off.

Donald Hall, in his book Life Work opens with these lines:

“I’ve never worked a day in my life. With the trivial exceptions of some teenage summers, I’ve never worked with my hands or shoulders or legs. I never stood on the line in Flint among the clangor and stench of embryonic Buicks for ten hours of small operations repeated on a large machine…
“I stay home and write poems—and essays, stories, textbooks, children’s books, biography…but because I loved my work it was as if I did not work at all.”

Lorine Niedecker sums up the same idea in the following poem:

Poet’s work

advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoff
from this

So, happy Labor Day—to all of us who choose to work instead of labor.
This week's Poetry Friday roundup will be held at


Diane Mayr said...

And Happy Labor Day to you, too!

By the way, I love the Niedecker poem.

Mary Lee said...

The Hall quote and the Niedecker poem are a perfect pairing!

Andrea Murphy said...

Love it, Mur!

Happy Labor Day, all.

I'm Jet . . . said...

Perfect for this weekend, Mur!


laurasalas said...

Wonderful poem. Thanks!