Posted by: John Looker | 7 January, 2018

Work (A Noun)

“And it’s spinning still. Changing shape. Becoming …”
What follows is a poem – not an extract from a dictionary.

Work (A Noun)


Old English: weorc, werc, wurc, wirc, worc, work: that which distinguishes the human from other primates

Let us start at the beginning. Come closer
and we’ll focus on a detail: two hands,
rough with bitten-down nails but agile, strong,
striking one stone against another; knapping.
Step back and see the whole man, in skins, squatting,
a ring of small children, thin dogs and beyond –
on the brow of this hill – earthworks and huts
and barefooted people carrying, sifting.
He stands. He weighs one flint in his hand, frowning,
then swinging his arm high he sends that stone
arching through the air to the trees below.
And it’s spinning still. Changing shape. Becoming
            a knife, a pot, the wheel, the printing press,
            railways, nuclear fission and the rule of law.

© John Looker 2015

It is three years this month since Benison Books published The Human Hive, my first book, and in celebration I thought I’d post here the opening poem.

The book looks at life through work, in all its forms, down the ages and round the world (it costs about $5 or £3 through Amazon or in Britain can be borrowed through local libraries from the national Poetry Library).

I saw a striking poem yesterday on the theme of life and work. Called ‘Road Work’ it was posted by Burl Whitman and you can find it at:


  1. The book is ordered. I really enjoy your poetry. I am hoping that when you write of life through work, in all its forms, down the ages and around the world, you are writing about people, not just men. Your poem, Work, could equally have described a woman. I loved Burl Whitman’s poem too.


    • Oh how kind of you Hilary – thank you. Yes, of course the poems are about women as much as men, and when the book arrives you will find, for example, a poem about a woman ambassador, another about a business woman, as well as others about a waitress, a mother … and so on. Some of course are gender neutral. Anyway, see what you think. Best wishes, John.


  2. History. Still unfinished. Creation. Still to unfold fresh surprises.


  3. Great piece as usual. Hugs from Brazil.


    • Thank you José Ruy, and best wishes for the new year.


  4. John, I have written via email several times to Cynthia Jobin’s sister, Jen, with no success in hearing back. I emailed “Contented Crafter” who says she can’t help me with a postal address. I would love to purchase some books – there must be some left and Amazon does not carry them… Contented Crafter says she was sure you had already been given the remaining unpublished poems by Cynthia herself before her death….is this the case? I just am having such a hard time letting go! Julie Murray – (Cyn’s college friend) Cincinnati, OH


    • Dear Julie. I am very sorry but I can’t help. Sadly Cynthia died without passing any of her poems to me. Like you I have her book A Certain Age and that is full of fine poems. I assume you have that. Also there are three Cynthia Jobin poems in the anthology Indra’s Net (available through Amazon) and five on but that’s all I’m aware of. My own letter of condolence to her family was returned unopened a year ago. At least her book has reached many people. Best wishes, John


      • Dear John,
        After much effort and determination, I have recently been successful in finding and contacting Cynthia’s sister who cared for her in her last illness and final days. She is very happy to be in touch with me and I feel certain would be happy to turn Cynthia’s unpublished poems over to you for publication, my email address is and would appreciate being able to communicate with you via email about this. Will you please be in touch? Thank you! Julie


  5. I wish I had written that! 🙂


  6. Excellent as usual, John. As I read the poem I could actually see the protagonist send that stone spinning through the air. Arcing through time, I guess!


  7. Brilliant poem, John – one that gives me a real sense of connection with our Stone Age forebears; also a sense of how instinctually primitive we remain despite all technological advances…

    Great use of “zoom in/zoom out” commentary technique.

    I enjoyed Burl Whitman’s poem too.

    My very best,



  8. Part of what I like about what you write, John, is that you start from an instance, in this case a knapper working stone, and then, with compressed language, explode through a single line a net over the entire history of work or the universe or an individual life. This seems to me to be a special gift. I hope I possess it sometimes, but every time I look in The Human Hive or read a poem, I feel the significance of what you are doing. I just think you are a great poet. I am anxious to see your new book when you finish it. I am going through the first rewrite of a novel that has a sonnet at the head of each chapter. I hope your new book is finished soon.


    • You’re a good friend to me over the uncounted miles of the internet, Tom. You seem to know what I’m aiming for – maybe one day I’ll get there. Good luck with your novel. That’s a fine project. All the best, J


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