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Haiku in the Workplace: Office Rivalry

Can this possibly be the case?

the whole office
composing haiku verse
where’s the prize?
	[Jon Brooks]

If we have been the cause of even one office slowdown, one slacking off of productivity, one diversion from the task at hand, then I am profoundly — delighted. Has haiku become a rival of the spreadsheet and the memorandum for your attention? You should be warned — haiku can be a nasty habit to kick.

Rivalry is our topic du jour, especially those that arise in our working environments, though they need not have anything to do with work:

My lunches

destroyed hers until

she went super-blender
	[Guy Masterson]

Rivalries challenge us to do more, better, faster. It can be argued they are the springboard to all advancement. It’s seemingly elemental, begins early, and isn’t limited to humans:

monkey business —
an alpha male bares
his teeth at a rival
	[David Dayson]

It’s a display behavior, for the usual reasons:

A bragging right beyond
The monetary:
Kate from accounting
	[Samuel Sibony]

though success in this department can lead to unexpected complications:


my mate

the undue stress
	[Ernesto P. Santiago]

In fact, success in rivalry can be measured in a variety of ways:

A knife between my 
Shoulder blades. I have taught
Him well
	[Samuel Sibony]

My third choice this week continues the fight:

rival actuaries —
fight it out regressing
to the mean
	[David Dayson]

We appreciate the double-entendre of the jargon, using it against itself. But we don’t expect this tableau to lead to actual fisticuffs, do we? A comic portrait in the mode of Daumier, but in words.

I have co-equals for second prize this week, as these two poems illustrate about the same level of enlightenment with about the same level of achievement:

in a parking lot
men compare the size —
of their cars
	[David Dayson]

head to head —
at a urinal men compete
for the fastest stream
[David Dayson]

Isn’t this what we love about men? Perhaps “love” is the wrong word here, and perhaps “men” as well. In both instances we recognize primal male behavior at its most rudimentary. We might as well enjoy it, it’s not going away any time soon.

My top choice this week is something subtler, at least in the doing:

the space race —
counting floor tiles
in a rival’s office
	[David Dayson]

The poet engages is a bit of misdirection: when we consider the first line, we imagine one of the species’ most elaborate and visionary enterprises. But we are quickly brought back down to earth. This is no fine thing we are privy to, but the covert accounting of small advantage. The poem takes us from the vast promise of the skies overhead to the space beneath our feet, creating a context of what the species is capable of, while keenly noting the specifics of what it is usually engaged in. A classic senryu, bigger than all the others and sure to attract a host of desirable mates.

I’m sure you’ll all be pleased for the success of our winning poet. We in haiku are above petty rivalries. Aren’t we?

New Poems

shared workspace
he unpins her
     — Roberta Beary
battlefield —
among the office stationery
may the best man win
     — Doris Pascolo
my work-life balance
beats your bonus
     — Mark Gilbert
office rivalry 
my co-worker’s Christmas tree
bigger than mine
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
secretary of state
whose non-fat sugar
to pass on?
     — Betty Shropshire
ah! repeatedly, 
working against each other — 
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
strained emotions . . .
and then on the rival’s desk
an olive branch
     — Marta Chocilowska
corner office —
never wanted it, he says 
a little loud
     — Ashish Narain
sugar coated poison . . .
my transfer to the old office
with a promotion 
     — Hifsa Ashraf
my Mercedes 
is bigger than yours
and so is my office space
     — Celestine Nudanu
in the office rivals
often create
unfounded rumors
     — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
she calls me
my brows arch
     — Carmen Sterba
no memory, no wish 
challenge to be tabula rasa
patient by patient
     — Lucia Fontana
raising his hand
"I will never agree ... "
so, he bursts coughing
     — Vladimir Devidé (sent by Tomislav Maretic)
looking it up . . .
the winner of the argument
becomes the loser
     — Tomislav Maretic
first day ends
she smiles at her
     — Pat Davis
my check on piled files
urgent summons for me
during long leave
     — S. Radhamani
rivalry in the office
rivalry in love
     — Angela Giordano
a roomful of rivals
for the prized location 
window desk
     — Madhuri Pillai
patients in office
infecting each other
poison pen
     — Ashoka Weerakkody
glass ceiling —
she pulls the ladder up
after her
     — Martha Magenta
office wars
department heads
sharpen their wits
     — Karen Harvey
weekend the lone dune walk
     — Adrien Bouter
dress down day 
at Prada
three piece suits
     — Paul Geiger
the knack to present
last for dramatic effect
office meeting
     — Willie Bongcaron
in the boardroom
a clash of power-dresses 
apple of the boss’s eye
     — Angelo Ancheta
knowing better
only your mouth 
     — Olivier Schopfer
icy gazes . . .
competition overheats
the winter days
     — Elisa Allo
crack in the door
low voices
at midnight
     — Christine Eales
window seat
her big aspidistra
     — Mike Gallagher
office shooting star
a swarm of mouth-to-mouth 
dark tales begins
     — Alegria Imperial

Next Week’s Theme: The Career-Defining Interview

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 16 February 2016.

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