Articles for Teachers & Students

Labor Day Poems

Poems reflecting on work, responsibility, and the end of summer.

by Becca Klaver
Labor Day Poems
Charles Sprague Pearce.

For the United States’ 129th Labor Day, we bring you a variety of poems, podcasts, and articles—some meditate on work, while others evoke restful, wistful end-of-summer feelings.

Labor Day was founded to give workers and their families a festival day: in this spirit, Muriel Rukeyser, Philip Levine, and Langston Hughes explore laborers’ family bonds and duties. For Robert Service, work is a burden; for Rhina P. Espaillat, it’s a salve for grief.  Workplaces real and imaginary are explored in Robert Pinsky’s Triangle Factory, Charles Simic’s spookily empty warehouse, and Lorine Niedecker’s poet’s “condensery.”

Besides a festival day for workers, Labor Day has come to signal the end of summer. In that spirit, Carol Frost, Rachel Hadas, D.A. Powell, and Sara Teasdale conjure sights and smells of the dog days. Gwendolyn Brooks, Jane Kenyon, and James Schuyler are awash in the elegiac feelings of this time of year, while C.D. Wright’s speaker surrenders to relaxation, admitting: “this feels painfully beautiful / whether or not / it will change the world one drop.” Now carry your laptop out to your rocker and listen to the poets and the cicadas. 

 

POEMS ABOUT WORK & WORKERS

Find Work” by Rhina P. Espaillat

Brass Spittoons” by Langston Hughes

What Work Is” by Philip Levine

Poet’s Work” by Lorine Niedecker

Shirt” by Robert Pinsky

Absalom” by Muriel Rukeyser

The Song of the Wage-slave” by Robert W. Service

Factory” by Charles Simic

 

POEMS FOR THE END OF SUMMER

A Sunset of the City” by Gwendolyn Brooks

All Summer Long” by Carol Frost

The End of Summer” by Rachel Hadas

Three Songs at the End of Summer” by Jane Kenyon

cruel, cruel summer” by D.A. Powell

Buried at Springs” by James Schuyler

September Midnight” by Sara Teasdale

Lake Echo, Dear” by C.D. Wright

 

AUDIO & PODCASTS

Memory of Summerby Bruce F. Murphy
Murphy’s poem read by an actor.
 

Poetry Radio Project: Poetry in Work
There’s a lot of poetry in work—people who do it, under do it, and can’t afford not to do it. David Tucker reads his poem “Downsizing,” Pedro Pietri reads his poem “Telephone Booth Number 905/2,” and Katha Pollitt reads Sarah Cleghorn’s “The Golf Links.”
 

Lines for Hard Times
Philip Levine reads his defiantly hopeful “They Feed They Lion” and “What Work Is” with commentary by Edward Hirsch.
 

Poetry Radio Project: Summer Cottages
Cornelius Eady discusses the place of his upstate New York vacation home in his book
Hardheaded Weather. 

Chicago Poetry Tour: Haymarket Monument
Featuring Studs Terkel, this segment explores the dynamic poetry and songs reflecting Chicago’s industrial labor movements.
 

 

ARTICLES & BLOG POSTS

Labor Day Adieu” by Mark Nowak

Art Strike Anyone?” by Thom Donovan

On Standing at Neruda’s Tomb
Luis Alberto Urrea interviews Martín Espada.
 

 

BACK TO SCHOOL GUIDE

Poetry Goes Back To School

 

BROWSE

More Labor Day poems

Originally Published: September 2, 2010

COMMENTS (3)

On September 2, 2010 at 11:48am thom donovan wrote:
Here's a great Labor Day poetry event happening in the Bay Area, organized by Sara Larsen, Alli Warren, Suzanne Stein, David Brazil, and Brandon Brown:

http://labday2010.blogspot.com/

On September 8, 2010 at 8:50pm Ann engelman wrote:
I would not have thought of Niedecker's poem "Poet's Work" as appropriate for Labor Day. But, of course! Thank you Becca for your observation. I am a huge Niedecker fan. . .and now will "carry this clarity with me."
Ann Engelman
Fort Atkinson, WI

On September 9, 2010 at 8:15am EK wrote:
"Digging" by Seamus Heaney? An excellent
poem about real work.
Also "Adam's Curse" by Yeats.

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Biography

Becca Klaver is the author of the poetry collection LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010) and the chapbook Inside a Red Corvette: A 90s Mix Tape (greying ghost press, 2009). A founding editor of the feminist poetry press Switchback Books, she holds an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD student in Literatures in English at Rutgers University. Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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