Skip to content

Exploring the Poetic Soul of Complex Organizational Environments (Part 1)

April 10, 2011

by oedipusphinx (aka JWDban)


Well, once again, it’s been a while but at least this time I have a much better excuse…I’ve been toiling away since January 2 with 4 (!!) doctoral seminars at Union Institute. It’s been a great semester with lots of new ideas swirling about. Lots of stuff to post but no time to do it.

So for now I want to post some poems I wrote for a recent paper on the use of poetry within organizational settings. It may seem like a very strange idea but after doing some digging through the literature I found some strong theory to back up the idea. Here’s a short excerpt from my introduction:


In considering the use of poetry in organizational settings one of its greatest advantages is its potential to open us up to a more mindful attentiveness to the ebb and flow of our interior lives. This awareness can in turn foster a greater sensitivity to the organization as an organic whole. Pioneering organizational thinker Meg Wheatley (1999) in her extensive writings on the benefits of whole system awareness has pointed out that “[t]here are many processes for developing awareness of a whole system…Any process works that encourages nonlinear thinking and intuition, and uses alternative forms of expression….The critical task is to evoke our sense, not just our gray matter”(p. 143). A practical example of such sense awareness is nicely illustrated by Shaw (2002) who writes on the benefits of emotionally-engaged dialogue in organizational settings. Recalling one such dialogue she participated in Shaw reflects that

In this kind of conversation the quality of risk and anticipation alerts my sense. I can recall the taste of coffee, the quality of light as the [Managing Director] gazes out the window at one point, the way the thick carpet absorbs sound and smells of some chemical cleaning fragrance. (p. 14)

Here we see, in rather simple terms, how one example of emotional engagement can open help someone become more attuned to nuance and subtle cues in the immediate surroundings that might otherwise be overlooked. My own contention is that the use of poetry as a tool for reflection and contemplation has this same ability.


To this end, the four stages and their representative poems are intended as metaphorical anchors for personal reflection. As such they are far less detailed than the empirical realities referenced by Kegan (1994) and Torbert et al. (2005). In one sense, this distinction should prove readily obvious since, with few exceptions, the poems are intended to not speak directly or make direct reference to the empirical realities of organizational life. This choice was based on a greater interest in capturing unspoken emotional truths that would otherwise elude more rational forms of comment or scrutiny. This choice was also encouraged by the work of one of the few scholars who has critically examined the use of poetry in organizational settings Louise Grisoni (2006,  2007). In an article co-written with Philip Kirk, Grisoni and Kirk (2006) note how “poetry has the power to reveal the unsayable and hidden aspects of organizational life” (p. 520). The two also go on to point out how poetry can in fact spark opportunities for change based on a greater awareness of the affective dimensions of an event or situation. I would go even further and argue that it is only through such an awareness that organizations will be able to marshal the insight, inspiration, and creativity needed to invigorate our organizations so that they might have the opportunity to leverage their current struggles as a springboard to a more emotionally complex and inclusive paradigm of sustainability and effectiveness.

What follows is the first of the three poems. I’ll post the other two in the next few days. The fourth poem, while featured in the paper, still doesn’t feel quite right. I’ll post it eventually but it needs to still simmer for now.
As always, your thoughts and feedback are encouraged…


The sparrows far from nests have stopped rehearsing.
With fierce, unchecked contempt, they are mired in a deep, brutal row
Over a disagreement about counter-melody that quickly flew into
Hateful accusations over abandoned potential and the “folly” of migration.

The eldest, suddenly fed up with cries of “delusion”
Pushes forward and—looking away until silence—begins to speak:
“I am sorry if choices I may have made have led us to this,” he said,
“But every one of us here needs to remember…” pausing with regret,
“We never felt such things before taking speech from the blackbirds.”
The wind now blew through them all as each and every one looked to the ground.

The flock now aloft, but each one somehow alone,
Move with heavy purpose under the press of the cold, November sky.
Silence thick as a bruise, clouds all recognition of song along with
Memories of what had been thrown aside for nothing but a brief taste of magic.
One Comment leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011 10:58 am

    Hi David,
    Since our Twitter connection, I thought I’d take a look at your blog. You are a beautifully poetic writer. Your poem made me pause for thought.

    Since you are writing about using poetry in organizations, I imagine you are familiar with David Whyte’s work? Seems he has been successful bringing the two together.
    I look forward to reading more of your writing. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: