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Haiku in the Workplace: Balancing Work with Life

This week’s submissions mostly divided themselves into a trio of contexts. The first of these, as we might imagine, is “the office” or workplace itself. One poet finds balance in the office environment by inviting the natural world in:

office window-sill
spreading crumbs
for blue-tits
	Katherine Gallagher

Another notices that the office finds its own balance:

a sudden burst of 
laughter behind a closed door
Friday afternoon
Lynne Rees

And another suggests that a balance has been found (though perhaps enigmatically) in the very act of writing about it:

a phone rings
in an empty office—
poet’s day
	Tim Gardiner

The second context, which I’ll call “screens,” is the pervasive (and cursed) mediator between these realms of our lives. What a modern affliction this first poem reveals:

A quick weekend trip—
I managed to sneak away!
To check my email
	Kerstin Dittmar

And no less touching and pathetic:

emails stack up
on the flickering screen—
a hoover wails
	Tim Gardiner

The third context is outside the office—anywhere else, really. That’s where we might notice that our family obligations are getting short schrift:

The weekend is old
By the time I fully hear
My children's laughter.
	Gwyneth Box

Or else we might notice a different sense of our selves—I am almost tempted to say, a kind of freedom:

Along the cycle path
sycamore seeds and dragonflies
speed me homewards

And then there is the sad situation of imbalance—the other way:

all balance no work
a Starbucks of CEOs—
Gen Y selfie
	Andrew Coleman

I couldn’t decide on just three poems this week, so I hope you will permit me the license of sharing my favorite four with you.

My third place poem is from “outside the office:”

in the park

wind ruffling 
my portfolio notes
	Judy Kendall, England

This poem uses a slight misdirection, so that the third line can surprise and amuse the reader, and deepen the import. What seems perfectly idyllic—a moment in the park, the wind rising gently—brings us home again to the fact that we’re only taking a respite from our work. But finding a way to bring such a respite into a busy day is itself a kind for victory, and the poem celebrates that without actually naming it.

My second place winner is from “the office,” and is a kind of “screen” poem as well:

weekend overtime

the kids all smiling at me

from a photo-frame
	Lynne Rees, England

This poem is very well crafted, with the third line again timed for maximum surprise and impact. It’s also a 5-7-5 syllable poem, but so skillfully managed as not to seem wordy or over-long, as is often the case with such efforts in English. And of course it contains worlds of emotional power—not only the yearning for actual face-time with those kids, but also the sense of necessary sacrifice in forgoing that time to supply them with other things they need.

My co-winners this week are both selected for their pathos, their exact limning of an emotionally fraught moment without excess or comment, and their command of the form. The first:

the programmer
woken by a sleeping screen
to offline loneliness
	David Dayson, England

captures an element that is perhaps new to the world: the collocation “offline loneliness” I think to be quite special. Has it ever been possible to be more lonely than within the context of ubiquitous interconnectivity? Has social media made lack of contact unbearable? We can envision the woken programmer, bathed in the soft glow of diodes, feeling quite unattached in a world of electrons, and feel her pain all the more keenly for our own “screen” experiences.

The second:

home from the night shift
a quick kiss in the doorway
as she leaves for work
	Andrew Shimield, England

achieves much the same pathos but in the human realm. This poem is a beautiful illustration that symmetry is not always balance. The price we pay for our daily bread can be higher than we even imagine, so the recognition of the processes by which we pay can be essential to our finding our balance. Writing such a poem can be a first step towards assessing the choices we make, however inevitable they may seem.

Congratulations to all who submitted for your willingness to address these issues, and I hope the process not only challenged but enlightened you. Most of all, keep writing!

New Poems

day’s end . . .
cleaning women on the bus
speak their mother tongue
     — Charlotte Digregorio (bottle rockets 24, 2011)
sleep hacking
the number of hours to work
or not to work
     — Ernesto Santiago
always in a hurry —
the children are grown 
without my knowledge
     — Maria Teresa Sisti
working overtime
I almost forget 
my way home
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
any day
I write a poem
is a good day
     — Mark Gilbert
commuting home —
I call to give him
dinner instructions
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
back from work I reassemble the pieces of my true self 
     — Olivier Schopfer (Under the Basho, “One-line Haiku”, 2015)
circus juggler
his wife, his mistress
on the same night
     — Johnny Baranski
sunlit margins 
ever left-justified 
laissez faire nights
     — Jan Benson
dentist office window:
the jack-’o-lantern’s
toothless grin
     — Elliot Nicely (Frogpond 36.1)
watching the work
swim away
the heron
     — Jennifer Hambrick
the conference . . .
mom calls me to ask
how are you?
     — Nikolay Grankin
after hours
we take work
to the bar
     — Christina Sng
her childcare bills
outstrip her wages
summer thunder
     — Marietta McGregor
recession —
my pension plans
down the drain
     — Pasquale Asprea
the 405 commute
she steers with her elbows —
     — Marilyn Appl Walker
client call —
someone’s mother cheers
my daughter's home run
     — Roberta Beary
climbing up
the coconut tree —
a little closer to sky
     — Pravat Kumar Padhy
coffee break
the scowl of the boss
so eloquent
     — Eufemia Griffo
I punch the badge —
only twenty minutes
for my son’s pool lesson
     — Elisa Allo
nine to five
average work week
the see-saw
     — Paul Geiger
coffee break
the swirls in
my mandala
     — Billy Antonio
tipping point
work folders fall over
my family photo
     — Debbi Antebi
into night mode
     — Brendon Kent
a nugget in
this lode
     — Elaine McCoy
heartfelt balance
after all these years
not invisible yet
     — Goran Gatalica
late again —
“writing haiku”
not an option
     — Marion Clarke
lunch time yoga
at the work station I straighten 
the productivity chart
     — Madhuri Pillai
piano tone restored
workplace stress
     — MR QUIPTY
home again
after a week on the road
plum blossoms
     — Deborah P Kolodji, (Close to the Wind, 2013)
get out in a hurry —
in my work bag
a nappy
     — Maria Laura Valente

Next Week’s Theme: Retirement

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 9 October 2014.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Greetings.
    For the record, my name is appended to a poem I didn’t write (The weekend is old…).
    In fact I wrote the next one (“Along the cycle path…).

Comments are closed.

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