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Here are some poetic ways to respond to annoying work emails.

Snigdha Koirala

October 12, 2021, 12:09pm

During a recent passive scrolling session on Twitter, I found this tweet from way back in early 2019—yes, it was a long passive scrolling session, but I’m trying to make something of it here—in which Devin Gael Kelly jokes that Rilke’s “[I’m not sure yet when]” was “the original out of office reply.” It’s funny because it’s true: “I’m not sure yet when/ you’ll have my response,” the poem begins. It’s concise, to the point, and followed by a breathtaking image: “Above, alone, in the vineyard, someone/ is already talking with the earth.” 

This got me thinking about other poems that might elevate our work emails—especially when we want to communicate the fact that we can’t or won’t be able to do something. Poets are meant to have a way with words, after all, so maybe this is the answer to all that awkward professional word salad (or maybe not—but humor me here). 

To that end, I’ve gathered some of my favorite lines from poets—either from their essays or poems—that you can consider using when you find yourself scrambling for words. Just make sure your boss appreciates a good book.

For when you get distracted and can’t finish what you’re meant to by EOD:

“Just like everyday life: we project duties, and fall into passions”

– Etel Adnan, from Of Cities & Women (Letters to Fawwaz)

“How curious. I had no idea! Today has ended.”

– Anne Carson, from “On Gertrude Stein About 9:30” in Short Talks

For when you’re about to go—or already are—on vacation:

“Well you know I wonder, it could be love running towards my life with its arms up yelling let’s buy it what a bargain!”

– Anne Carson, from “On the Sensation of Aeroplane Takeoff” in Short Talks

“summer as a/ time to do/ nothing and make/ no money.”

– Eileen Myles, from “Peanut Butter

“soon I’m going to take/ the train. then enter the/ wall covered in red vines”

– Etel Adnan, from “Return from London” in Time

For when you’d like the emails to slow down for a bit (and you’re not afraid of getting to the point):

“Oh, put away your good words/ and your bad words. Spit out/ your words like stones!”

– Anne Sexton, from “From the Garden,” in Mercies

“What are you doing? Leave me alone!/ Can’t you see I’m dreaming?”

– Anne Sexton, from “Old,” in Mercies

For when you’re having an existential crisis related to work:

why am i doing this? Failure

to keep my work in order so as

to be able to find things

to paint the house

to earn enough money to live on

– Bernadette Mayer, from “Failure in Infinitives” 

For when you’re having one of those days and just don’t want to work:

“History is full of people who just didn’t. They said no thank you, turned away, escaped to the desert.”

– Anne Boyer, in A Handbook of Disappointed Fate

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