No Poetry for the Practical Man

The great American poet, John Ciardi, was once asked by a  group of businessmen to speak at one of their functions. I guess that they thought that it would be a novelty to have a poet as their guest speaker. The story goes that Ciardi politely declined, stating “that there is no poetry for the practical man.”

In my more than thirty-five years in business, I have generally found this to be true. People who are overly concerned with the proverbial “bottom line”, and who think that business is soley concerned with making a profit, typically have no “poetry”,as it were, in their lives.

I also have found the opposite to be true. People who are solely “dreamers” generally have no idea how to actualize their dreams, turning them into reality.

I really think that you need to have a little of both–to be a “practical dreamer’, if you will. As the wise Zen master once said, “First enlightenment, then the laundry. Both are necessary.” ( A quote attributable to Dr. Michael Horowitz, the president of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, in a speech several years ago to a breakfast group before the school’s commencement ceremony).

Ciardi’s actual quote is as follows:

There is no poetry for the practical man. There is poetry only for the mankind of the man that spends only a certain amount of time at the practical wheel. For if he spends too much of his time at the mechanics of practicality, he must become something less than a man, or be eaten up by the frustrations stored in his irrational personality. An ulcer is an unkissed imagination taking its revenge for having been jilted. It is an unwritten poem, un undanced dance, an unpainted watercolor. It is a declaration from the mankind of man that a clear spring of joy has not been tapped, and that it must break through, muddily on its own.

— John Ciardi (d. 1986)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *