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Haiku in the Workplace: First Day at the New Job

One of the tropes of haiku is that it engages “beginner’s mind.” This is a state wherein we are completely receptive to whatever happens, alert to change, free from judgment, and lacking anticipation. We are right here, right now, and we embrace it.

Which, as we all know, is fine when you are in a completely comfortable and confident state, or the exact opposite state one find’s one’s self in when beginning a new job. Here we know that a steep learning curve lies just ahead of us, that our ability to traverse this climb will determine if we’re allowed to continue, and that we will need to assimilate our new routine and environment as quickly as possible in order to fit in. The stress of these challenges is enormous, and yet there is much to recommend such a move. We do indeed become hyperalert, and the possibilities of newness are refreshing and very often pay dividends within and without the workplace. We meet new people, travel new routes, and test our skills in ways we’ve never tried. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we get paid well.

Many of our poets chose to explain just these sorts of things in their work, rather than treat them as the context out of which their poems arose. This one, for instance, is so pointed that it hardly needs to be placed in the context of this survey:

New kid on the block
Keeping low so not to be
New neck on the block
	[Mike Franklin]

Fitting in is a particularly recurrent theme, and, to judge from your submissions, the source of most consternation. This one is perhaps the most specific:

Tightening at the neck:
no one else
was wearing a tie.
 	[Collin Dardis]

Then there were the minor inconveniences that accompany newness, as in this vignette:

Knocking at the glass,
she wondered when
her ID card would arrive.
	[Collin Dardis]

And of course the indoctrination process always offers its challenges:

work induction —
gently anaesthetised 
by training videos
	[David Dayson]

Occasionally for some a shift of routine can trigger to something darker:

At their desks
no one noticed him
breaking the water cooler.
	[Collin Dardis]

Your submissions also offered a nice “teaching moment.” Compare if you would these two poems:

first day —
so many introductions
all forgotten
	[David Dayson]
Anna, Claire, Greg, Matt,
Pete, Sam, Simon, Sue, Tim, Tom,
Will, Will, Anna . . . 
	[Sarah Leavesley]

The subject matter is identical, and each approach has its own felicities. In the former, the first line opens the poem to multiple contexts — school, work, the playground, a wedding or a funeral — but later tells us the consequence, leaving little for the reader to do other than affirm. The second approach is much more specific in what it offers, and the repeated names are tantalizing — are there really 2 Wills, 2 Annas, or is the poet getting confused? Which also underscores the challenge of getting the lay of the land. However, in this form the poem gains much by being discovered within the context of poems written to this subject. Encountering it on its own, a reader might have a great deal more difficulty understanding that it purports to be more than a list, and in fact is a commentary on the rigors of introductions. Both these approaches have their merits, as well as their challenges.

My top three this week all offer some literary attribute which distinguishes them from the rest. My third choice offers an original coinage:

first day at work —
with a flutter of newrosis 
butterflies settle
	[David Dayson]

A word that describes a “disorder as a result of newness” seems missing from our current stock for describing the modern condition, and is a welcome addition. And of course the butterflies are both actual and literal.

My second selection

recruited —
well suited a career
	[David Dayson]

employs rhyme, which is rarely encountered in haiku, since in such a short form such an effect might easily overwhelm other features. Here, however, I feel the rhyme suggestively reinforces the content — the recurrence of the same “oo” sound creates a mood (sorry) of repetition — another place with other people, but the same job. The suit may have changed, and I may have been sought out, but it is to familiar territory I will be moving.

The best of the current crop, however, I felt to be

a chameleon 
brightens with the move —
to a new branch
	[David Dayson]

On my first reading I felt the third line might be a bit of a wasted opportunity — of course the chameleon changes when it moves to a new place. But I decided that the neat metonymy actually enhanced the overall effect, and anchored the poem to the specifics of the poet. Additionally, this poem is the most characteristic of traditional haiku of these noted, relying upon image to convey the import of the poem without recourse to explanation, interjection or imposition. That is, it features poetry mind rather than prose mind, a transformation more challenging to make than any a chameleon might undertake. Well done.

New Poems

braille characters —
gazing at the world 
with someone else’s eyes
     — Stefano Riondato
the new girl —
everybody calls me
by a different name
     — Maria Laura Valente
first day
someone else’s post-its
in my cubicle
     — Mark Gilbert
summer job
amazed at the proby’s
disarming PR
     — Willie Bongcaron
the need to impress
slightly greater
     — Shloka Shankar
new job
the secretary’s face
at my too tight suit
     — Celestine Nudanu
first coffee break —
I am the only one 
drinking green tea
     — Angelee Deodhar
new job 
the exchange
of tampons
     — Roberta Beary
the rookie . . .
in and out of the office
a fruit fly
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
first day at the new job —
an important challenge
“on tiptoe”
     — Doris Pascolo
morning rumbling
butterflies dance in stomach
first day on new job
     — Katherine Stella
a rookie mistake
her first and last day
on any job
     — Michael Henry Lee
induction day
all the exits
     — Brendon Kent
first day on the job
how my face shines
in new shoes
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
first day
tapping my instinct
to guide me
     — Angelo Ancheta
new job . . .
I feel just like Alice
in front of the queen
     — Eufemia Griffo
says my boss
through gritted teeth
     — Debbie Feller
new girl
her skirt already
too short
     — Jessica Latham
first day at work
someone else’s family
in my top desk drawer
     — Terri French
first job
the  boss’s blue eyes
smile at me
     — Marta Chocilowska
shooting star
my new office down
one of these halls
     — Gail Oare
on meeting new cohorts 
I turn myself inside
     — Devin Harrison
new job . . .
with a smile my husband
went to the wrong office
     — Elisa Allo
on time
for the new job
my mismatched socks
     — Billy Antonio
dawn —
the job ushers me
into adulthood
     — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
starting a new job
my first day
of kindergarten
     — Olivier Schopfer
New city
First day on the job
Among perfect strangers
     — Angela Giordano
first day at the new job —
a rubber spider
in the desk drawer
     — Chad Lee Robinson
new job . . .
I slide into the drawer
mother’s photograph
     — Madhuri Pillai
I sign their contract
for a key to the bathroom
gauge of commitment
     — Michael Stinson
new job
a meerkat
reads the landscape
     — Jennifer Hambrick
first day
all I can think about
is my daughter
     — Christina Sng
stethoscope, pager
key to the morphine cabinet
her first round
     — Lee Nash
size matters —
on introducing it’s the boots
that got most attention . . .
     — Adrian Bouter
semi-retired . . .
I welcome with a smile
new hires
quasi in pensione
accolgo con un sorriso
i nuovi assunti
     — Lucia Cardillo
hiding my nerves
the loud squeak
of new shoes
     — Andy McLellan
tiny green stem, 
a weed shoots up after rain. 
I greet new colleagues
     — Timothy J. Dickey
first day 
knowing winks —
at my brown bag
     — Paul Geiger
first day at the new job
a declining graph:
enthusiasm over time
     — Anthony Rabang
insomnia —
a last night
before the first day
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
first day at work
my tea-making skills
an asset
     — Karen Harvey
maiden flight
the gull’s wings through
sea of clouds
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
first day at work
my undercover boss
turn up as waitress
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah

Next Week’s Theme: The Office Retreat

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 18 May 2015.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Missed submitting last week, but I’m still reading! What a lot of fun!

  2. Dear Jim, This column is so much fun! I can hardly wait each week to read everyone’s haiku!

    Where was I last week?

    first day teaching first grade
    Miss Appl’s desk
    covered with apples

    Marilyn Appl Walker

  3. Lots of fabulous haiku here. Some made me smile. Congratulations everyone. thank you for including mine Jim.

  4. Dear Jim,This is a very neat summing up of the first day at a new job,much to learn here ,thank you for stimulating our gray cells,best always,angelee

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