THE MELANCHOLY MBA by Richard Donnelly

A six-figure education must certainly lead to a six-figure salary with an end-of-the-year bonus, a guaranteed parking spot, tailoring at Brooks Brothers, coy glances from potential lovers, and entrance to the company box at Target Field. With an MBA, you have a ticket to the inner circle. You are someone who Must Be Appreciated.

Or not.

When you read Richard’s poems from his latest book, The Melancholy MBA, you will immediately find the strange, the weary, and the lunacy going on at your workplace validated. You’ll read about computers possessed by Satan, mere acquaintances who don’t filter their thoughts before telling you things they shouldn’t, confrontations with drug dealers, unyielding sexual tension, a boss who pulls employees’ hair, and a colleague like this:


after interrupting him
in his office
for the third time
I had to
his giant jar of jelly beans
so he could look
at the whole file

we had lost almost
three hundred thousand dollars
since 10:00 am
he seemed undisturbed
his TV was on
he peeled an orange
look he finally
said to me
are you the one
eating my jelly beans

And just as importantly, you’ll appreciate the fact that Richard’s poems don’t read like long drawn-out emails full of too many useless details. Sometimes I get the impression he’s writing at gunpoint, but in a good way, or we’d never be holding his poetry in our hands. Richard is like a still. Every poem that comes out of him is already poteen. Each one is refined to its swig-of-fire essentials:


I am not
responsible for
your car
your purse
your trouble
an ex-
boyfriend I
your manager
your godmother
I cannot
get you
a raise outside
the normal
I do not live
for you
I have
a home and how
I feel about
my wife
has nothing to
do with
now let me
do my work
you do yours
while you’re at
it button
up the top
of that blouse

The real wonder is that Richard’s speaker has been able to transcend the daily grind with rich and philosophical romanticism:


if I could only have you with me
I’m sure I could do so much better
I would show the HR Manager exactly
how to gain efficiency
save money have fun of course
have fun but she would see that by
watching you the
tall girl with the huge laugh golden
hair pink nails dark slacks
white blouse opened just so
brown eyes sparkling like champagne
and if the buyer is a man
my god there’s nothing more to say

we could take on the world you and I
my lucky thing my talisman
the streets of Minneapolis will ring
with our laughter
the sun will always shine
and when the day is through I
would be as thankful as a man can be
our eyes holding each other our
breath the same breath with faces close
in some hidden trattoria
our lips the same lips our words
just the same and I swear
I would only hold your hand a moment
I would not touch you

Sometimes, as writers, we dare to touch our hopes and dreams. You write a poem and the dream may or may not manifest. Sometimes you just end up with a poem. Is that enough? I don’t know. Too metaphysical for me. But Richard writes a beauty called:


they gave me a new office with a window last March
here I am nearing middle age and this is the first
time I can see the Minneapolis sunshine
and a gleaming skyline
the IDS Tower beckoning like a woman
I would like to own that woman

I would like to group up wealthy laughing investors
I would promote control hire dark striking
models to pose
and do nothing else I
would persuade whole boardrooms to
sell to me at impossibly low prices banks would rush to
help rules would be ignored

all you have heard then is not true
I have not backed down from Hagan or worked
nights at Citgo
men in fact fear me women
are intrigued I have no boss no wife
no man calls me son
I am master of my own fate
and have dominion over all things

Richard writes in the mad pulse that only poets seem to have. And maybe this is why he is able to carry off the poem, “Poor People”:


there are some poor people
in the world
I see them at the Northland Park
Community Center or
Dell Foods in
they wear dirty sweatshirts
stained sweat pants old
broken tennis shoes
their hair hangs
around their faces
their oily hair
it’s almost like being crazy
is what it looks like to
me until one of their kids
kicks in your
door at two a.m. and says
I’ll show you crazy

I love that poem for its bluntness and its bull’s eye insight, and I applaud Richard’s willingness to point out that some people’s lives can be uncomfortable to look at as well as downright scary. Though we may work for society, society doesn’t work for everybody and sometimes that notion comes with ugly consequences. In fact, Richard begins and ends his book with poems about people who aren’t balancing work with student loans or a mortgage, a spouse, and kids in need of healthcare. People on the fringe such as the homeless man in, “I Told You”, and the moving poem, “Retarded Man” who seems to be the only one in the book who gets what he wants. Why write about these people if not to have us contemplate what life might be like if we can’t get it “right”, or the odd sense of peace that might exist if we didn’t have the obligations and commitments society expects us to endure.

By setting office scenarios aside, Richard gives the reader time away from the proverbial desk to contemplate art. To be baffled and then beguiled by a rose’s bloom. His talent for taking an entire library and spinning it down to one sentence becomes evident in this simple but elegant poem:


a favorite
are mine

When we get tired and afraid, the way we often do, Richard also gives us the tender “Barn in the Rain” poem providing a different kind of sheltering experience that allows us to return “as good as you ever were.”

We return. We keep going.  I’m fascinated by his poem “Cabo” a word I had to look up, which is Spanish and means after all, or in the end. In the end, perhaps, Richard’s speaker is speaking for anyone expecting—of all the crazy things—fulfillment. It’s hard to grasp though. Maybe because fulfillment is hard to define. Maybe because it’s always in flux. Probably because it seems like those in charge are the ones handing it out or taking it away.

And what about those people in charge?  In Richard’s poems we hear all the details of what upper management feels like, stripped of any sense of stature or even enthusiasm. Success is fleeting. Pleasure provisional. The Melancholy MBA is about the speaker not getting what he wants. In this world, we are not guaranteed anything. An advanced degree does not promise love, solitude, or simple understanding. It does not prevent being confronted with mortality as in Richard’s poem, “Cancer” or in the compelling, “Bellini”. If anything it causes more pressure. More stress. Less room for fun. You have to work on multiple computers at the same time, for godssake. When it comes down to it, success may be having someone who is just happy to be with you.

Read through The Melancholy MBA and you will feel it all—the weight, the genius, the discord—all of it gorgeous and all of it transporting. Richard’s poems are personal but not absolute. They’re tough and gentle, chaste and fine and humble, provocative, funny, and often sensuous when he writes about the office trenches, married life, flowers, and that all too elusive, sought after affliction called love.

Still, his speaker is no deserter. Despite what has happened before, you can picture this man adjusting his tie yet again, and you can almost feel the air stir from the wink he’s giving the next woman he meets.

More information about Richard Donnelly can be found at his website: The Melancholy MBA The Melancholy MBA is published by Brick Road Poetry Press of Columbus, Georgia. For the cost of a lonely feast for one or a cheap lunch for two you can buy it through

Brick Road Poetry Press   Amazon   Powell’s  or   Barnes and Noble

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