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This article is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.

Letter from Belgrade James Sutherland-Smith

Work is the enemy of many forms of idle vocation. Poetry is one such vocation inhibited by work. T.S. Eliot was the subject of an attempted rescue from his bank through a subscription initiated by Ezra Pound. This did not succeed but, unlike Wallace Stevens, Eliot left his financial employer for a working life in literature soon after the subscription debacle. Philip Larkin used the ugly but useful toad as a metaphor for work, commanding it to lead him down Cemetery Road. Larkin created a great university library through toad-like activity, but seemed to have become a librarian by default after not gaining interesting war work. As with many people of ability and ambition the 'day job' became something in which to do well and advance rather than just something with which to pay the bills. It takes great strength of character or hardness of heart to stifle one's toad and be merely satisfactory in one's job, refusing promotion and extra responsibility.

In the twenty-first century it is scarcely possible not to advance with six-monthly assessments from one's line manager and a yearly grade ranging with my employer from 'unsatisfactory' through 'transitional' to 'successful' and 'exceptional'. The first two of these mean that one is put on notice or monitored. As I am invariably 'successful' and occasionally 'exceptional', it is difficult to escape pressure to apply for higher grade jobs. The first trick is to apply for something unsuitable such 'Business Manager for South-East Asia' knowing that ...

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