Call me crazy, but I'm of the belief that business doesn't have to be boring.
I shouldn't be telling you this, but my bathroom reading materials are personal finance magazines. I keep BusinessWeek, Money and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazines on hand to peruse during one of the few times I get a break from my three young children.
So when I discovered the financial poems of Michael Silverstein, I was delighted.
He's become the unofficial bard of business. Silverstein, a former senior editor for Bloomberg Financial News in Princeton, N.J., founded the Web site www.wallstreetpoet.com, where "satirical verse gives a fun spin to financial markets."
Silverstein, who is 61 and retired, said he began writing poems about financial issues to help educate and entertain.
"It occurred to me that there was a singular lack of poetry in financial markets and I decided to fill the gap," Silverstein said in an interview. "A good poem is a very good way of reaching people at a very visceral level and help them understand very complicated concepts."
For example, when Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan recently warned there was a chance, albeit a small one, that the U.S. economy could be hit by deflation, Silverstein wrote:
My whole life's deflated
It's lost its old puff,
What used to be easy
Has now gotten tough.
By a host of deep downturns
I have been beset,
The only thing rising
Is my credit debt.
In "Deflation -- The Poem," the latest verse posted on his Web site, Silverstein writes:
My salary's frozen
For hard cash I'm strapped,
The kid's school tuition
My last savings sapped.
The pension I thought
Would make old age less weighty,
Has gone up in smoke
Now I'll work til I'm eighty.
"I wanted to communicate that deflation isn't just an economic term," Silverstein said.
"Deflation may be something the Fed just stumbled upon but unfortunately deflation has been an element of a lot of people's lives for the last three or four years. People's expectations are deflated. Their income has been deflated. Their job security has deflated. Deflation isn't new to them."
What I like about Silverstein's poetry is his ability to tackle the current financial issues of the day. Goodness knows, these last several years have been hard on folks. Unemployment is up while consumer confidence is down. Credit card debts are rising while stock portfolios are crashing.
All this bad economic news is, without a doubt, depressing. But Silverstein's satirical verse at least brings some levity to some heavy and heartbreaking issues.
Take, for example, Silverstein's poem "No Pain at the Top," in which he muses about the disgustingly high compensation for CEOs and their severance packages:
Profits may tumble and jobs disappear
Bankruptcies soar in a climate of fear
But somehow they thrive, those who know how to rig it
Finessing the levers and jiggling the spigot.
In good times and bad times
The games never stop
Pain sinks to the bottom
Cream stays at the top.
When times they are fat, 'mid great acclamation
The Corporate Elect take a huge extra ration
When times get much leaner they whine and they snivel
Their egos get bruised but their perks never shrivel.
Each week, Silverstein pens a new poem. He has addressed health care, the declining airline industry, offshore tax shelters, bankruptcy taxes and penny stocks.
He has also written several books. His latest one, "Street Verse: 80 New Songs Of Wall Street," offers his unique poetic perspective on subjects ranging from market manipulators to labor and management issues.
In his weekly poems and his books, Silverstein loves to parody famous works by poets such as Shakespeare and Robert Browning. In one poem he employs the verse structure of Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din." Silverstein calls this poem, "Ready Cash." He writes:
You may talk of stocks and bonds
When they act like magic wands
And to rake it in you only have to play;
But when the markets tumble
You'll talk a lot more humble
'Cause in trading slumps there's always hell to pay.
It's in these disturbing times
That a certain asset shines
An asset scorned when you were puffed and brash;
Though for pros it's much too tame
You'll embrace it without shame
When the going's rough, you'll want that ready cash.
For it's cash, cash, cash,
That sees you through a crash.
Your best friend in a downturn's ready cash.
So if you're feeling down about your falling stock portfolio, read some of Silverstein's poems. They're bound to give you a chuckle even if you aren't laughing all the way to the bank.
While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers can write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071.