Winner of the 2015 Colorado Prize for Poetry, selected by Laura Kasischke
What does it mean to work in the age of the cubicle? The Business takes on the modern workplace with sharp-witted poems that sting like a paper cut. A former secretary, Stephanie Lenox positions herself as a poetic note-taker of the mundane. Organized by the classical components of Greek tragedy, these poems enact the relationships, heartbreaks, and small heroic efforts that make up our working lives. Think there’s nothing poetic about annoying coworkers, endless meetings, and stained coffee mugs? Think again. While tragedy provides the organizational structure for this collection, humor plays a central role. This collection transforms office politics and paper clips into a funny and critical examination of the mortal rat race. If you’ve ever been fired, let go, unemployed, underemployed, or overlooked, these poems are for you. Begun on stolen reams of printer paper, this book reclaims the hours of our lives we give, out of necessity, to others in order to survive.
“In The Business we find the private world exposed, brought out bright and clear from its hiding place, and evoked in the strangest, wildest, and most precise of poetry, written by a poet of extraordinary talent and skill. Stephanie Lenox has a rare kind of x-ray vision: no surface, no costume, no public domain obscures this seeing of the Beyond and the Beneath. There’s kindness here, too, in the shock of recognition—empathy for the human condition, a longing to dredge up the beautiful along with the rest of it. What it is to be alive, in this place and at this time—she has ordered the mess for us, brought uncanny music and metaphor to it. This is not a book of poems to read and forget. It will stay with the reader, as real poetry does, forever.”
“Investigating all the travails of the workplace, The Business—both tragic and comical at the same time—follows the order of a Greek tragedy and accurately captures the indifference of the workplace through inventive language and rhythm: the burping workmate to the appallingly cold temperatures to the uncaring bosses approaching on the last day with a cake and a good riddance. Stephanie Lenox’s voice is tragically funny, a wonderful new voice in contemporary poetry—one that understands our current times are no fun but a new reality we must learn to live with, for ‘we will not go on forever, / though mornings like this it feels we must.'”
“True to the title of her new collection of poems, Stephanie Lenox gives American business the business, offering a look at office life as unflinching as Dilbert. A clear-eyed teller of truth, Lenox writes with humor and poignancy, resonance and punch. Full of fresh metaphor and memorable lines—’To be angry is to take your place among the gods’—The Business is the Real Deal.”
—Charles Harper Webb