A Spy in the House of Commerce

Dana Gioia
Dana Gioia

For seventeen years I worked in the business world while writing at night and on weekends. It was, especially at first, a life of considerable social and spiritual seclusion. The sense of isolation was heightened by the prevalent assumption then everywhere evident that all serious poets belonged in the university. For a young poet, however, loneliness is probably the necessary precondition to individuality.

Writing by myself late at night with no professional pressures to publish, I found the time—even if it came only in tiny increments—to discover who I was as a poet. For nearly a decade I sent no poems to journals. I was concerned only with writing something that seemed good enough. My long hours in the office provided the community I didn’t have in the arts. From my fellow workers, none of whom knew I was a poet, I also learned a great many things about the human needs and aspirations a poet must address.

For a young poet, however, loneliness is probably the necessary precondition to individuality.Now working full-time as a writer, I miss the camaraderie of office life—despite its pressure and politics. Ironically, I also miss the secrecy of my former literary life. No more do I experience the guilty pleasures of being a spy in the house of commerce. I suspect, however, that I still write more for my old fellow workers, who will never read my poems, than for the literati. Or rather I write for an imaginary reader who combines the best features of both groups.

Dana Gioia has frequently been asked to describe the impact of working in business while writing. “A Spy in the House of Commerce” is a short response written for a proposed anthology on business and poetry.