Business and Poetry

29 November 2012 at 7:03 pm 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

Wallace Stevens was one of America’s greatest poets. The author of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” and “The Idea of Order at Key West” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955 and offered a prestigious faculty position at Harvard University. Stevens turned it down. He didn’t want to give up his position as Vice President of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.

This lyrically inclined insurance executive was far from alone in occupying the intersect of business and poetry. Dana Gioia, a poet, Stanford Business School grad, and former General Foods executive, notes that T.S. Eliot spent a decade at Lloyd’s Bank of London; and many other poets including James Dickey, A.R. Ammons, and Edmund Clarence Stedman navigated stints in business.

Sure, quants rule, but literary types have a role to play in business too. And some of the great literary and artistic figures, such as Dickens, Rubens, and even Shakespeare, were successful business managers. The quoted passage is from John Coleman’s “The Benefits of Poetry for Professionals” in the HBR blog.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dick Langlois  |  30 November 2012 at 10:29 am

    If you come to Hartford, you can take a walking tour of the path Stevens used to take from his home to his office.

    http://www.wesleyan.edu/wstevens/Wallywalk.html

    Stevens is probably my favorite poet and “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” probably my favorite poem. I have always read it as affirming a skeptical and personal aesthetic against a Romantic one.

    Let be be finale of seem.
    The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

    I haven’t thought about it long enough to know if there is a case for calling Stevens a businessman-poet in a literary as well as literal sense. (Paging Deirdre McCloskey.)

  • 2. Joe Mahoney  |  1 December 2012 at 11:27 pm

    My favorite Stevens’ lines: “You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are.” The man replied, “Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

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