My first workspace after college graduation was a newspaper copydesk.
I’d been hired as a copy editor at the Beaumont, Texas, Enterprise. The title was grander than the reality of the entry-level job; I was one of four copy editors, and my workspace was a desk pushed against seven other desks to form a squat “H.” We were collaborative and team-based about three decades before it became corporate cool.
It was a perfectly comfortable space for me. My last semester before graduation, I had worked in exactly the same kind of space for the college newspaper. The space in college and the space at Enterpriserequired learned deafness; you learned to blot out a lot of sounds – reporters talking with editors; wire service machines; the whirr of pre-fax telephone transmissions; people from page paste-up coming to an editor to trim a story; the sports department on the other side of a wall that was not floor-to-ceiling; and the nearby receptionist who enthusiastically (loudly) greeted visitors, told jokes, and handled incoming telephone calls.
The workspace was imbued with a kind of poetry of noise; to concentrate and focus, to get work done, you had to pursue the poetry of anti-noise. Because the newspaper was printed in the same building, the smells of ink and newsprint added considerably to the atmosphere. It was rich, it was heady, and, for a 21-year-old college graduate in his first real working job, it was exciting.
My job involved words. Words for stories. Words for headlines. Words that became part of instructions. Words from teletype machines and wire service machines. Words from telephone conversations. Words in staff meetings. It was, in a very real sense, living the life of a poem.
The work had an inherent rhythm and cadence, determined by three deadlines: The East Texas edition at 7 p.m., the Louisiana edition at 8 p.m., and the home edition at 10 p.m. The Enterprise’sgeographic reach included Cajun Louisiana, East Texas almost as far north as Longview, and Southeast Texas. That covered a surprisingly wide array of cultures and accents; talking with and understanding stringer reporters, scattered over several hundred miles, could sometimes be a challenge.
I didn’t understand until much later how critical that workspace was to the work. I did come to understand how faddish workspaces could be. The 1940s and 1950s were the era of big open spaces, especially for accountants. The 1960s leaned in the direction of enclosed offices; my next job after the newspaper was with a big corporation in Houston, and I was given an enclosed office. It took me a while to figure out how to work without constant noise.
From the 1970s onward, it was the cubicle that reigned. Not long after I finally figured out how to work in an enclosed office, the cubicle arrived, and I had to do some unlearning. And for the record: you hear all kinds of grand sociological theories about workspaces, and what the studies show are the best (studies change, constantly), but it’s almost always a matter of cost. Cubicles are cheaper than enclosed offices, especially if you’re constantly reorganizing, downsizing, expanding, and rebuilding.
From Poetry at Work, chapter 3: “Whether the space is the Oval Office, a classroom, a home, the cab of a truck, a taxi, a warehouse, an assembly line, a shop or a store, an offshore oil rig, a hair salon, or an office cubicle, emotion happens there. Life happens there. And the dramas, and comedies, and occasional tragedies that unfold there matter. This is poetry. And it matters.”
FEATURED IMAGE BY TOM DARIN LISKEY
Glynn Young is the fiction editor at Literary Life.
He is an award-winning speechwriter and public relations executive and is a Fellow of the Public Relations Society of America and a member of the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. He blogs at Faith, Fiction, Friends. Glynn is the author of three published novels in the Dancing Priest series – Dancing Priest (2012), A Light Shining (2013), Dancing King(2017), and Dancing Prophet (2018). He is the author of the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also a contributing editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.