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Haiku in the Workplace: Miscommunication

Perhaps I’m not making myself clear: the best haiku are not just jokes or aphorisms or whatever one might shoehorn into 17 syllables. Nevertheless, these tropes continue to dominate the submissions to this column. This week’s topic, “Miscommunication”, lends itself as an opportunity to address these continuing misconceptions.

So let’s be clear: all the poems you will read below are haiku, but, as with so much else, there are haiku and then there are haiku. That is, there are levels of accomplishment, and we’ve been at this long enough now to be making positive strides up that ladder. A useful analogy might be football — no, I mean football. (Just because I’m a Yank doesn’t mean I don’t know what football is.)

When you watch Chelsea or Liverpool (or, horrors, Barca) playing, you recognize that the level of performance is very high (well, usually). But when you watch a group of 5-year-olds stumbling around the pitch, passing to no one in particular (or no one at all), and drifting off into a self-stimulated daze, we don’t say “that’s not football”. We recognize it for what it is — a beginner’s level.

Most of the efforts we see here are beginner’s level haiku, which is fair — none, or nearly none, of you are professional haiku poets, and you have day jobs, so you are perhaps not cultivating these skills as quickly as you might should you devote most of your waking hours to it. Nonetheless, I’m challenging you to raise the level of your game, to move beyond beginner’s level haiku. Here are three basic things you can do right away that will improve your work:

1) Work in Images — rather than give us the abstract conceptualization, give us the image(s) that suggest it. In this poem

communication —
or where confabulation 
merely overlaps
	[David Dayson]

can you visualize “communication”? Or even the overlap of confabulation? What do we see when we try? Do we visualize the same thing as the poet has in mind, or that other readers do? This is the poet’s task, to let the reader see (or hear, or feel) the trigger for the insight. Imagery is our basic tool for this.

2) Avoid Generalities — the best haiku are about specific events, real or imagined, rather than abstractions. A poem like this

blundering into the
komyunikeshon gyappu —
between cultures
	[David Dayson]

tells us the general situation, but a Premier League haiku would give us the specific incident where we recognized its truth.

3) Let the Poem Be About Itself, Not About You — there is a great temptation to appear witty and in control of the situation in everything we do and say, but the goal here is not to perform but to invite others into our experience. Jokes are fun but they are generally closed — our interest ends when they end. Good poetry opens — the reader or listener is rewarded for continuing to think on the words shared. So this is fun

"Siri, Help me, I am shot!"
Did you mean:
"Hold me, I am hot!"?
	[Samual Sibony]

and maybe even an actual experience (though I doubt it), but ultimately is about the writer, not about the reader.

By way of further example, here’s a missed opportunity:

between words —
so much to be understood 
from silence
	[David Dayson]

The first line is wonderful. It places us in the middle of a fraught, quite likely personal, moment. There is a pause in the middle of communication — why? The reader wants to know. Is the speaker having second thoughts? Has he forgotten what he wished to say? What would cause him to do so? Or is he waiting for some kind of response?

Unfortunately this is followed, not by a clinching image, but rather by a platitude. What if the poet hadn’t tried to explain to us what silence might mean, but rather pointed us beyond the silence he had already conveyed with the first line? I hope the poet will reconsider this poem and let us all see what was significant enough in that moment that he wished to share it.

So, with these guidelines in mind, please consider the following poems, the best of this week’s submissions. See if you think they work in images, avoid generalities, and are about the poem rather than the poet. Do you think you could now improve them?

someone interprets
the things someone else assumes
spread like a virus
	[Ernesto Santiago]
okay is OK —
its many meanings
all korrect
	[David Dayson]
all I needed was
hard boiled words —
instead a soufflé 
	[David Dayson]
linguistic baggage —
so many words packed tight
into small ideas
	[David Dayson]
when bad is so good
and really sick is awesome —
words mean whatever 
	[David Dayson]
a growing friendship
two photos on saturday
no response: the end.
	[Monika Dunkel]
not saying no
with nuanced ambiguity —
a door left ajar 
	[David Dayson]

My top choice this week clears all three hurdles we’ve discussed:

“Lol xxx”
Lots of love or
Laughing out loud?
	[Samuel Sibony]

The image is that of a written or texted communication, and we can all see that clearly. The poem doesn’t generalize about this sort of communication, but provides a specific instance of it. And its humor is open-ended, and provides more than a laugh. We can enter the poem, and even place ourselves in the position of receiving and trying to parse such a communication. The poem grows deeper from such consideration. This poem has made no miscommunication, but has indeed raised itself well above entry level. Nicely played.

New Poems

in French Time
the lunch break
the park
     — Joseph Salvatore Aversano
treacherous path —
no way back from
“reply all”
     — Gail Oare
team meeting
one colleague
gets what I’m saying
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
1 a.m.
he tells us
I want it done today
     — Marita Gargiulo
the misuse of mouth
to mouth
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
Looking for
a work
a word
a world
     — Stefano Riondato
work etiquette . . .
everyone laugh louder 
than the boss
     — Hifsa Ashraf
communicative  blackout —
a treasure for a few 
the truths of all
     — Alessandra Delle Fratte
serious problem —
the face-to-face
     — Angela Giordano
Christmas eve
the assembly instructions
lost in translation
     — Michael Henry Lee
old memo
to self —
don’t look back
     — Helen Buckingham
miscommunication —
no more with
those who matter
     — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
an own goal 
by miscommunication
a defeat
     — Marta Chocilowska
she says all the right things —
the pleasing click
of this ballpoint
     — Mark Gilbert
blacked out
groping for trip switch
caught a nipple
     — Ashoka Weerakkody
shoveled snow
trapped in a heap of apathy
my point
     — Jennifer Hambrick
pins and needles
we rewrite the failed proposal
for no slip-ups
     — Marilyn Appl Walker
how could you!
how could I what?
you know
     — Shandon Land
foreign counterpart 
another email
to decode the first
     — Madhuri Pillai
text replacement
which one will manage
the iPhone or i?
     — Kerstin Park
insurance payment
to his deceased wife
hurricane desk
     — Nicole Tilde
snippet of gossip
the frustration of
     — Pat Davis
I said we check in 
12 o’clock he calls —
next noon
     — S. Radhamani
deep freeze —
my words taken
the wrong way
     — Martha Magenta
all glitters ain’t gold
at the point of
open admiration . . .
     — Adrian Bouter
i want tickets for the opera
not for Oprah
     — Christine Eales
in between the lines
the silence of the boss 
over the union strike
     — Angelo Ancheta
filed alphabetically 
openings chronlogical
     — Ron Scully
sent unchecked
autocorrected text
deer in the headlights
     — Karen Conrads Wibell
snow day —
the deadline depends on
who’s asking
     — Roberta Beary
from one to another
with an interesting result
     — Tomislav Maretic
sleepless night . . .
why are all emails 
written in Cyrillic?
     — Elisa Allo
sign language
the perfect time
to miss a point
     — Willie Bongcaron
arrows in red, orange, green and blue
dry erase
before I understood
     — Tricia Knoll
braless today
i was speechless
     — Paul Geiger
the migrant recruit cringes
over work mates’ excitement
at the flea market
     — Alegria Imperial
miscommunication —
translation means 
     — Ana Drobot
sign language
the perfect time
to miss a point
     — Willie Bongcaron
arrows in red, orange, green and blue
dry erase
before I understood
     — Tricia Knoll
miscommunication —
of just a case of 
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
closed doors
I faithfully arrive
on a Japanese holiday
     — Carmen Sterba
but I thought 
he knew what I meant . . .
the great divide
     — Karen Harvey
a cable line
of misinformation —
office rat
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
and a final admonishment:
From management:
Departmental memos mustn’t
be styled as haiku
     — Topher Dykes

Next Week’s Theme: Office Rivalry

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 February 2016.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Check out Charles Trumbull’s section on the history of “Frogpond” in vol 40:3.
    A great account of the vision and work of the past editors….3 pages describing Jim Kacian’s contributions!

  2. Workplace Haiku – Office Rivalry
    at last, first in the office!
    after the one who
    remembers the key

    1. First time posting to Workplace. Speaking of being early, is this “rivalry” offering mistimed?

  3. I enjoyed Madhuri Pillai’s ku. There can be a communication gap when talking or corresponding with people whose first language is not one’s own!

  4. Dear poet,
    Greetings! What a plethora of communications in ‘miscommunication’? so wonderfully drawn each.
    with regards

  5. I loved Shannon Land’s
    how could you?
    how could I what?
    you know
    but I felt it would benefit from capital letters and punctuation at the end — and maybe quotation marks. Even though these break some of haiku’s unwritten rules ….

  6. Regarding JK’s interesting comments, how many professional haiku poets are there? I think I may know of one.

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