Poem Sampler

Work Poems

Poetry about looking for jobs and working for a living.
By The Editors
Illustration of people at work.

Honoring Labor
Whether it’s May Day, International Workers Day, or Labor Day, it’s always a good time to honor the work we do. Take a well-deserved break with these poems.

Chicago by Carl Sandburg

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 by Martín Espada

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

Eden, Then and Now by Ruth Stone

Mother, Washing Dishes by Susan Meyers

Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop

Virtuosi by Lisel Mueller

My God, It's Full of Stars by Tracy K. Smith


Looking for Work
Layoffs, unemployment, job lines, interviews, and back again. Philip Levine reflects on his days in an auto plant, trying to keep his job in order to support his brother, while these other poems show the frustrations and absurdities of the job search.

Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview by Gary Soto

After working sixty hours again for what reason by Bob Hicok

What Work Is by Philip Levine

[Keen and lovely man moved as in a dance] by Lorine Niedecker

Calling Him Back from Layoff by Bob Hicok

In Order To by Kenneth Patchen


Underappreciated Workers
The work of many goes unnoticed, unappreciated, and misunderstood. Rhina Espaillat recalls her grandmother’s work ethic, and Robert Pinsky honors those who died in the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.

“Find Work” by Rhina P. Espaillat

Shirt by Robert Pinsky

The Dignity of Ushers by Al Maginnes

Self-Employed by David Ignatow

from The Woman’s Labor. An Epistle to Mister Stephen Duck by Mary Collier

Coal Deliveryman by Ramón Cote Baraibar

from Saying Grace by Kevin Young


Poets at Work
These poems look at how a poet fits into the world of labor: Kenneth Koch avoiding his father’s business, and Niedecker took her grandfather’s advice about work in her own direction. And Robert Frost revels in the work that unites him with nature.

To My Father’s Business by Kenneth Koch

Poet’s Work by Lorine Niedecker

Mowing by Robert Frost

Failures in Infinitives by Bernadette Mayer

The Halls by Mark Halliday


Originally Published: April 24th, 2012
  1. April 28, 2013
     Marlene R. Edelstein

    What about Phillip Larkin's 'Toads' and 'Toads Revisited'?

  2. May 16, 2013
     Michael G. Moore

    I read these poems about work as praise for the craft of inquiry. Thanks.