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Haiku in the Workplace: After Failure

Have you ever noticed how anyone ever quoted on the subject of failure is anything but? This is not to say that Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill and Coco Chanel have never failed, but it is not their failures they are known for. So they hardly qualify as experts. Why do we never hear from John C. Turmel (look him up) or the 1962 New York Mets? Actually the Mets’ redoubtable manager, Casey Stengel, was quite quotable, and once offered this small gem on the topic: “Without losers, where would the winners be?” Where indeed.

The majority of submissions were again more aphoristic than imagistic, which might get you points in some venues, but not here. Haiku are at their best when they are image-based, and when their language does not tell the reader what to think or feel, and when the result does not appear as a bit of potted philosophy. We can appreciate the pithy expression of circumstance in such nuggets as

I never knew how
High I had soared until
I was shot down
	[Samuel Sibony]

but we can’t really accord it much artistic merit. Similarly, while the following makes for a fine allegory (which at least is a poetical mode), it is intended to be just that: an existential bromide for general application, and not the kind of extended comparison of specific images that marks achievement in our genre:

from the ashes
of last year’s gorse fire —
heather flourishes
	[David Dayson]

Of these little homilies, this one, that might be taken directly from a “haiku” self-help (self-helpku?) book, most appealed to me, though I don’t doubt it’s an idiosyncratic choice. At least it has humor to recommend it:

fail forward —
banana skins propel
us to success
	[David Dayson]

My three choices this week, as usual, rely more upon their images to do the work for them than merely rhetorical devices, but the linguistic presentation still matters to a very great extent. Consider how in my third choice the truncated third line leads us directly to a moment of attention:

for us no more
than a far-off splash —
but for Icarus
	[David Dayson]

This poem is an example of ekphrasis — a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art — as it references the famous Bruegel painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. In the painting, Icarus’s demise is but one small feature in a painting bustling with enterprise, agriculture and natural interest. The poet, too, minimizes the impact of the fall from the skies in the first two lines, but shifts our attention back to the drama in the third. The poem, then, features the imminent death, whereas the painting makes a point that death is simply one character in the drama. The poem, then, seems more caught up with the “story” than the painting. I would have liked an ellipsis at the end of line three, as without it there is some slight uncertainty on how to read the line.

My second choice conjures the different ends of the task that lies ahead, the energy of first coming to terms, and the potential harsh reality of failing at last:

Out of a job
Bring out the rolodex
Bring out the begging bowl
	[Samuel Sibony]

The mock-heightening of the situation can’t fail to lighten the moment, but what grounds it are the completely different yet equally real possibilities those images evoke. The diction — “bring out, bring out” — formalizes the poem and enhances the humor (and may also remind readers of a certain age of Monty Python’s “bring out your dead” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail). There is a certain bracing quality to phrasing the challenge in this way, a “making public” that challenges the new job seeker, and his willingness to see both extremes mixes humility in with that humor.

My top choice offers two sharply etched images which create an instant drama:

end of rope
the clutching hands
opted to pray
	[Ernesto Santiago]

The first line is fraught with danger, whether we be holding on to or suspended from it. We gather from the last two lines that this rope end has now eluded those hands, leaving them free for other gestures. Is the gesture chosen appropriate to the opportunity? Is there a better choice? The poet doesn’t attempt to answer these questions, but instead allows the reader to pose them to herself. Depending on our orientation we might find great comfort, or great futility, in that choice. But the poem doesn’t resolve the situation, and in truth, no matter how we have responded, there is still the matter of what actually happened to those hands after the poem concludes. Neatly constructed and profoundly provocative, in 9 words, putting Teilhard de Chardin (look him up) to shame. Good luck with the job search.

New Poems

on the fourth try . . .
blind audition
     — Willie Bongcaron
quarterly results
the leaping frog
misses the lily pad
     — Gail Oare
bad day at work
going home
to momma’s kitchen
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
swallow’s flight
my resilience
     — Lucia Fontana
after failure . . .
convincing help
from an old frog
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
ice cream tub  
i triple scoop  
my workday
     — Roberta Beary
after failure 
pick up the broken pieces . . .
toss in cesspool
     — Katherine Stella
team risk-taker
reaping the rewards
of failure
     — Enrique Garrovillo
Cheshire cat
lapping up my dismissal 
for breakfast
     — Celestine Nudanu
big account lost —
the bottled water order
cut in half
     — Michael H. Lester
after failure . . .
the fuzzy solace
in a bottle of wine 
     — Madhuri Pillai
the morning after
the deal hasn’t died
     — Mark Gilbert
after failure . . .
packing up my dreams
in an old box
     — Eufemia Griffo
Black Monday
in front of a closed bank
clenched hands
     — Marta Chocilowska
among former colleagues
in a bar we speak
of the old days
Tra ex colleghi
Ritrovarsi dentro un bar
ricordando i vecchi tempi
     — Angela Giordano
sister defeat
leading me on to dais
above me spider
     — S. Radhamani
the losing captain
drinks from the victory cup
champagne vinegar
     — Mike Gallagher
feeling like a failure . . .
the quietness
of falling snow
     — Olivier Schopfer
rounds of sake —
finally i get over
the rejection letter
     — Arvinder Kaur
crumpled paper crane
I reshape my values
and goals
     — Martha Magenta
digesting failure —
in my black coffee
a dash of brandy
     — Debbi Antebi
music festival
listening to the silence
of her fired son
     — Eleonore Nickolay
moving on
after losing the best deal
early bird
     — Angelo Ancheta
soul searching
last thought
on its timing
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
like a child 
learning to walk . . .
fall and then get up
     — Elisa Allo
after failure
the see-saw
     — Pat Davis
lost contract
a drop in pressure
in the boardroom
     — Lee Nash
after failure . . .
awaiting the return
of optimism
     — Tomislav Maretic
after failure —
I win the lottery 
in my dreams
     — Ana Drobot
two fingers left 
no chance of failing 
this time
     — Marietta McGregor
after failure
longer wait time
in the loo
     — Alegria Imperial
after failure
changing my approach
to my boss’s wife
     — Cezar Ciobika
store closing
how the shelves yellowed
the lights drained
     — Ron Scully
blown mission
a hole on the shoulder 
where the gold leaves were
     — Michael Henry Lee
after failure
the ego boss covers
his shame with a shade
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
after failure . . . even if
it takes forever
     — Willie Bongcaron

Next Week’s Theme: BurnOut

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 29 September 2015.

This Post Has 5 Comments

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  2. I ‘failed’ to get round to sending anything last week but I love to come and read your inspirational poems. There is a feeling of ‘making the best of it,’ and even, ‘a chance to move forward,’ about some of these poems. Sometimes our failure can prompt us to seize the opportunity to reassess and move on better things. Either way I really enjoyed this week’s offerings.

  3. Dear esteemed poet,
    warm greetings! it is a pleasure, going through
    each week’s theme . Different approaches .
    with regards

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