Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry and the Lives of Women

Yesterday I had a wonderful reading experience in an unusual venue, i.e., the world of business. Strange bedfellows—poetry and finance. My daughter works at New York Life Investment Management in Parsippany, New Jersey. Last summer she was talking to Christine Birnbaum, who heads the Human Resources department, and mentioned that her mother is a poet. Christine was interested in both the poetry and the story of my having left teaching to spend more time with writing. As she frequently brings in guest speakers and has made a commitment to humanizing the workplace, she thought a poetry reading and conversation might be something she'd like to arrange.

Several months ago when Christine began thinking about speakers for Women's History Month, she got back together with my daughter. One thing led to another and a visit was arranged. I called my presentation "Poetry and the Lives of Women." Prior to the date, Christine did terrific PR. She invited the members of a group called Financial Women's Association and posted the information on their website. Email invitations went out to NYLIM employees. Fliers were put on tables in the cafeteria. There was even a notice on the lobby tv screen! I wish all venue hosts would do this kind of advance promotion for a reading.

The event began with a breakfast at 8:00 AM. Above is the conference room where the reading was held. NYLIM is a beautiful building, and the above room was really nice. Off to the right was a table set up with donuts and a variety of scones, tea and coffee, and several kinds of juice. Christine had the chairs arranged in semi-circle rows with a chair for me at the front. We ended up with 30 in the audience, 3 men included and very welcome, too.

The reading began at 9:00 with an introduction. I talked a bit about how I began to write poetry, my decision to leave teaching, and the work I do now as a poet. Then I read a dozen poems which I'd organized into woman-related topics, such as Motherhood, Clothes, Our Bodies, Food, Love. Next came a Q&A. I love it when the audience asks good questions and this group did. They seemed so interested in the poetry, where I draw ideas from, how I go about writing a poem and then getting it out into the world. We ended with a raffle of my books which Christine had ordered ahead of time. What a great way to put poetry into people's hands! I signed the books and we had some time for casual conversation.

My sense was that everyone really enjoyed this kind of presentation, something they'd never had before in the office. And there were a number of those great connections that sometimes unexpectedly pop up at poetry events. Two of the women are friends with women poets I know. A few used to write poetry and said they can't wait to get back to it. A few said they'd like to try to write some poetry. A few have children who write poetry. One woman would like to have me read at her library. I hope she can arrange for that to happen.

So don't think that poetry and business don't mix. There's an audience there as hungry for poetry as they are for scones. I was happy to have been the poet who brought poetry into that particular workplace.

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