[On Sundays, this blog explores topics beyond its normal focus in “Sabbath,” a feature inspired by the similarly titled poems and collections of Wendell Berry.]
I’ve grown fond of a new poet, Simon Armitage. His poetry is accessible without ever feeling dumbed down or cliched. In The Shout: Selected Poems, Armitage has several poems about a urban everyman named Robinson, whose life is tragic in the sense that he is constantly bored, a hamster on a wheel.
The poem Robinson’s Resignation captures this feeling and what can be done about it. It is a simple poem, three stanzas and a telling final line. In the first stanza, Robinson grumbles that he is “done with this thing called work, the paper clips and staples of it all.” He is sick of complaining customers and their “foul-mouthed” children. In the second stanza, poor Robinson spews hate for something almost everyone loathes – meaningless, endless meetings. In the final stanza, he explodes the myth about the “friendship thing”: “I couldn’t give/a weeping fig for those so-called brothers/who are all voltage, not current.” Robinson walks away with a last line that is pure dismissal: “This is my final word. Nothing will follow.”
Some people like to read into poems like this. They would say the final line implies an ultimate ending, possible a suicide note. My take is simpler. Robinson’s lament reflects a frustration I frequently see with my clients. People are pushed to the brink at their jobs, so they walk way. Nothing will follow with the job they are leaving, but they quit in the hope of finding something better: better pay, less boredom, a boss who is not a sadist. If Robinson were a real person and needed money, what would follow this poem is a job search. We often make strong declarations like “nothing will follow” only to change our minds the next day, if not the next hour.
I love this poem because it shows despair and frustration turning it a type of power: self-determination. One book I’ve often recommended to clients is Seth Godin’s The Dip, which explores how and when to quit things. Godin challenges the claim that winners never quit. He writes, “Winners quit all the time.” They know how to quit the things at the right times and stick with what will help them to achieve their goals. Based on Armitage’s other poems about Robinson, I don’t think this poor man will ever be a winner, but his world is much like ours, so we can laugh at him and ourselves, hopefully learning in the process. I strongly recommend – in particular order – The Dip, Seth Godin, Simon Armitage’s poetry, and quitting. All are empowering.