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Haiku in the Workplace: A Job Well Done

I am surprised that so few poets responded to this week’s challenge. I would have thought the topic would have invited particularly welcome feelings about this whole enterprise of haiku in the workplace, and that we would have been inundated with success stories. Perhaps such emotion is better savored privately, or that much more difficult to limn in words. Whatever the reason, we had relatively few offerings this time round.

Consequently, we have fewer poems to share with you, so I thought we might take the opportunity to discuss a couple fine points that we’ve not mentioned in previous columns.

Typically, haiku do not employ certain of the traditional devices and techniques commonly associated with verse. For instance, you will hear it said that haiku eschews metaphor. This is somewhat ironic on its own terms, as a haiku is itself a metaphor. But this is to the point: employing a metaphor within a metaphor does create a kind of infinite regress, which can mitigate some of the effect of the poem. Of course this may be exactly the effect you want, so we ought never say never. But such poems do remain relatively rare.

That appears to be what is happening, for instance, in this poem:

slowly climbing free
of last year’s dead leaves:
forget-me-not stars
	[Sarah Leavesley]

I researched the phrase “forget-me-not stars” and found 1) the names of actors who appeared in a 2009 film titled Forget Me Not; and 2) registered names for a family of purebred whippets. So I am forced to conclude that either the poet is suggesting that actual stars are emerging from last year’s dead leaves (highly unlikely), or else s/he is employing “star” metaphorically, as a substitute for the flower (not exact, but possible). Even if we are inclined to grant license for such a phrasing, notice the path our minds must travel to arrive at a not entirely comfortable reading of the poem. Can this be the poet’s intent? To what end?

These are legitimate questions, since at least part of what we appreciate in any writing is the ability of the author to direct our minds to the end goal or state. When instead we are left to roam on our own, then alternative readings — distractions — may indeed turn up, and the overall satisfaction derived from the work is lessened. Had the poet not reached for metaphor here — had she written “forget-me-not-blossoms,” or, even more simply, “forget-me-nots” — we would not be distracted from the sense of the poem in any way. It may well be impossible to control every nuance of language at all times, even in such a short offering as a haiku, but surely we cannot have been intended to be considering whippet names here. This is part of the challenge introducing metaphor within metaphor can bring.

Here’s an instance where metaphor within metaphor works rather better:

centuries pass —
the unseen hand
of the forester
	[David Dayson]

This poem uses a technique called metonymy, wherein a part of a whole stands for the entirety, in this instance “hand” for the forester, but in fact what is intended is “handiwork.” This poem is clear to imagine, and the metaphor within the haiku does not distract us to arcane considerations of other matters. Still this poem must be regarded as “not quite” for a couple reasons.

The problem chiefly resides in what the poem actually, rather than metaphorically, says. Of course the “hand” of the forester is unseen (it would be rather ghastly were it otherwise). But “hand,” as we noted above, actually means “handiwork,” and if that handiwork is unseen, then what is this poem about? You can’t have the forester’s work both noted and unobserved at the same time. Since the poet is mentioning it, he must have noticed it. Suggesting otherwise is a device used to make the reader recognize the particular acuity of the poet’s observations, not the lack of evidence of the forester’s art. So, pleasing though the poem may seem in its execution, it actually falters conceptually.

Haiku are famously short, and the consequence of this is that every word, every nuance, every technique, is that much more obviously on display. It is no small feat to compose them so that they do not distract the reader from the desired object of attention. Basho, the patron saint of classical Japanese haiku, once suggested that a life in which a poet crafts 10 perfect haiku is not a life lived in vain. We might take this further — even a single perfect haiku is an achievement that few will realize.

Here, then, are the poems I feel most satisfy the thematic requirements for the week, and at the same time offer the best level of technical achievement. They are nearly identical, technically, with only their content giving them variety (which makes me consider that they may all have been written by the same hand (ah, metonymy again). As a result, I offer all three as this week’s top choices.

off stage —
a piano tuner’s
silent joy
	[David Dayson]
closing the script
a theatre prompter leaves —
her lines unspoken
	[David Dayson]
the long sighs 
of a safety officer —
doing nothing
	[David Dayson]

The first of these, offered a couple weeks ago in a different context, is a pleasing sketch from the life of one subordinate but crucial to the success of artistic enterprise. The piano tuner will never be noticed in the fanfare and triumph of the concert, but a failure to do his work, precisely and in time, will be noticed by everyone. The fact that no one will need to know his name tonight is its own reward.

Likewise in the second instance, a nearly identical situation transferred from concert hall to the theatre. The presumption here is that the prompter has done her job so well that she has rendered herself unnecessary — exactly the circumstance she would most desire.

The third of these is slightly different, in that success here doesn’t resolve into joy, but ennui. The perfection of the task in hand, in all these poems, leads to inaction. It is the work that has been done prior to the event that is being rewarded, and in each poem this work is assumed, which makes for taut tellings of the consequence. This compression of narrative to the telling tableaux is very well handled. These are each excellent efforts, and, in considering the theme of a job well done, are themselves jobs well done. Nice work!

New Poems

a job well done
no fingerprints, witnesses  
or trace of the body
     — Michael Henry Lee
in a job
well done — the feeding
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
still working
for the teacher’s gold stars
my inner child
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
a job well done . . .
completed task with a lot of
self performance
     — Katherine Stella
job well done party —
the blindfolded boss strikes
a piñata     again
     — Angelee Deodhar
a well done job —
old values
for excellent results
     — Doris Pascolo
his cash bonus
her good job award
     — Roberta Beary
making the deadline
the hole punch
my celebration
     — Mark Gilbert
year-end bonus —
the CEO's compliment
to the workforce
     — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
recovered data —
the boss is giving me
a pat on the back
     — Marta Chocilowska
winter sun
my job blows
hot and cold
     — Celestine Nudanu
Michelangelo’s Pieta
the master’s hands
sculpt the eternity
     — Eufemia Griffo
a beautiful day
the weddingplanner smiles
and leans back
     — Kristjaan Panneman
well done!
company staff salute
the Barista’s efforts
     — Paul Geiger
home after work
gold stars
from her five-year-old son
     — Anthony Rabang
congratulations . . .
the pressure mounting
from the top
     — Angelo Ancheta
straightness of the bean rows —
a simple nod
from my father
     — Chad Lee Robinson
straight line           roofer’s smile
     — Peggy Bilbro
the wisdom of checking
every detail
     — Willie Bongcaron
tearoom drinks
someone else now
holding the baby
     — Marietta McGregor
painted apartment —
morning sun shines 
on the new walls
     — Tomislav Maretic
painted sunset
pausing to admire
our project at deadline
     — Gail Oare
so many “Congrats!” —
my name in all caps
on their black list
     — Maria Laura Valente
applications thin    
all  were  selected
a  job well done.
     — S. Radhamani
Little value
at work well done
Bitter bitterness
Poco valore
al lavoro ben fatto
Affogo l’amarezza
     — Angela Giordano
for a breakthrough
glass ceiling
     — Martha Magenta
a  perfect poem —
and now nothing more
to say
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
a job well done
once again the boss
hogs the credit
     — Madhuri Pillai
a job well done —
only a shoulder pat
and a wooden trophy
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
the young boss’s approval
a thumbs up
     — Pat Davis
one year after . . .
slowly rewinding
Dad’s gold watch
     — Mark E. Brager
office boy
in the project well done team
for his inputs
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
two words: well done!
the expression on his face
speaks volumes
     — Adrian Bouter
school year ends:
finding out your students 
suddenly grown up
     — Elisa Allo
finally done
with the project
     — Olivier Schopfer
an insect 
plays dead 
for a living
     — Danny Blackwell
at last
     — Mike Gallagher
letting my wife know 
she’s the boss
     — Cezar Ciobika
sliced cucumber
so able to split up the time 
deserved by people
     — Lucia Fontana
to perfection . . .
time for home
     — Karen Harvey

Next Week’s Theme: The Broken Air Conditioner

Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!

kacian_jimFrom October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contemporary practice, or perhaps one of your own, which you might even write for the occasion. The best of these will be appended to the column. First published 15 June 2015.

This Post Has 6 Comments

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  2. Thank you for the valuable discussion which teaches a lot dear mr. Kacian
    And thanks to everyone for their haikus.
    The theme: a job well done, led me to this point to ask myself what a job well done, truly is ?!?!
    A mission successfully complete: rocketing down a passenger airplane,
    or hitting a plane to towers filled with civilians?!?!

    Thank you for all the questions that your art gives rise to .

  3. Jim,
    You receive a gold star for publishing one of mine.

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