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Haiku in the Workplace: Springtime in the Office

Spring has a decided effect on the species. Our pulses race, our hearts throb, our minds are befuddled, we are easily distracted from all things but the one, the only, reason for being. I am speaking, of course, of poetry. This being the case, spring is a very good excuse to remind ourselves that the craft of poetry is just as — nay, even more — important than its content. Moby Dick, after all, is just a gruesome tale of a whale hunt. It’s the telling of it that makes it literature.

So let’s see how some of our poets, inflamed by the season, have managed to hew to the formalities of the genre. It’s all very well to say that the only thing that matters is what you have to say, but some of us have been at this for nearly half a year now, and it’s a good thing to take stock to see if we are in charge of our poems, or they of us.

Leaving aside technical debates (syllable counts, season and cutting words, etc.), we are likely to discover the most consistent problems encountered in the poems of those who are relatively new to the genre is “telling too much.” A poem such as this

leaving and
returning in the light
daily bliss
	[David Pilling]

starts well, but then gives away the game in the third line, telling the emotion rather than allowing a second image to do the work. This is exactly the challenge of haiku: to pair images to speak for you, rather than you speaking for yourselves. Imagine the possibilities this poem offers: leaving and returning in the light! Just to suggest a few things that come to mind: “the night nurse”; or “morning glories”; or “the newborn”! Each of these makes an entirely different poem, but of course that’s the point — the poem isn’t there to tell you how I feel, but to ask you to consider one sensation — the coming and going of the light (the lengthening of the days being only one of many possible readings) — with another (which may be some natural entity, but can include a complete flight of fantasy, such as the last suggestion).

Another example:

top button undone
a sandwich in the park
thoughts of summer start
	[David Pilling]

Isn’t the third line already contained in the first two? If the poet had simply written

top button undone
a sandwich
in the park

would we not have said to ourselves “ah, the beginning of the warm season, and all that entails.” Add to this that we would have found it ourselves, and our satisfaction with the poem is enhanced many times over.

Another common problem is that we as poets don’t entirely trust the reader to gather our meanings. So we overreach, on the one hand,

Her two ankles bare 
By the Twinings Selection
The sandal scandal
	[Imara Csoti]

or else we might equivocate:

apricot blossom —
can fluorescent lights
have a fragrant halo
	[David Dayson]

 
Imagine if the poet had simply offered

apricot blossoms —
the fragrant halo
of fluorescent light

Would we have followed him there? I would have, gladly. He doesn’t need to ask my permission, as his own version seems to do.

Compare these with my selections for the week. My third prize this week is for

spring sorrow —
to find a whole day
lost at work
	[David Dayson]

We make our way in the world by selling our hours, and this is never more painful than during the time of burgeoning, as the poet clearly evokes. “Spring sorrow” is a trope — a kigo — from classical Japanese haiku, which the poet has nicely updated here.

My second choice is actually three choices, all with the same shared moment:

in consolation —
spring sunset treads on papers
fanned across my desk
	[David Dayson]
Erigenia; 
natural daylight let in, 
on spreadsheet magic
	[Noble Francis]
we start to slant blinds —
against the rush of files,
trickles of sunshine
	[Sarah Leavesley]

The renewed awareness of a strengthening and invigorating sun is one of the most important experiences of spring, and, not surprisingly, many poets wrote on this subject. It is instructive to see how these three poets differ in their approach, and what effect these differences have on their poems. In the first, a proviso is stated in the opening line. While this has the effect of preparing our mindspace for the mild irony that is to follow, it also limits the range of our response, telling us, in effect, what the discovery was for the poet. Thus, effective, but not expansive.

The second begins with a natural image, and not just any natural image, but the specific flower associated in the UK with early spring, so this already contains season and nature contexts. The second line provides “natural daylight” to inform us that the poet has had to make do with the alternative, presumably for some time, and the third jokes on the fact that this doesn’t quite release him from his reality — he’s still in the office, doing his job — but at least now it’s in a slightly better environment. The poet, like the erigenia, is the better for a glimpse of the return of the natural world, even if life is pretty much the same.

The third, and the best of these to my mind, begins with an action that connotes the season — the waxing power of the sun is noted and accommodated. As with the other two poems, the office setting is still the context, and the invasion of that context by natural forces is the “plot.” In this instance, however, the poet, while still providing a clear visual image of what he has encountered, manages to convey the experience 1) more directly (the sunlight neither “treads” nor evokes “magic” but is simply sunshine), 2) in language that is suggestive of the latent and growing power of the sun (“trickles” against the “rush”), while 3) allowing readers to come to the wealth of associations in
their own way (neither as “consolation” nor as “magic”). The result is nicely restrained, and as a consequence, more expansive.

My top winner this week is this bit of serendipity:

skyscrapers drift —
their moorings loosened
by spring clouds
	[David Dayson]

Our cognitive faculties may explain this to us after the fact, but it is not facts that compel here, rather the charming illusion of our gravity-bound world sprung loose by the float of clouds, not only in the sky but in the windows of those buildings that rear up among them. “Drift” is exactly right, there is seemingly no purpose to this motion, in contrast to the precision of such architecture in the rational city. This seems a particularly apt denotation of spring, when our own leaden thoughts, grown recalcitrant in winter, loosen in the new warmth and light, allowing us who have drudged so long to float free as well. Thanks to the poet who sends us up into the clouds on such a fine day.

New Poems

Spring affair
the Secretary’s hat
in pink polka dots
     — Celestine Nudanu
          *
buried in research 
for publication’s cold deadline
Crocuses break through
     — Barbara Fay Wiese
          *
spring in the office —
a butterfly lands
on the flower dress
     — Doris Pascolo
          *
spring clean
a new broom
for the dead wood
     — Mark Gilbert
          *
now; aimlessly . . .
wandering around the office
a caddis fly
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
          *
decluttering
a cloudless screen saver
for the virtual desktop
     — Sonam Chhoki
          *
coffee break —
two red strawberries
in my bag
     — Maria Teresa Sisti
          *
cubical frenzy
rolls donuts and fresh coffee
early bird gets worm
     — Katherine Stella
          *
workplace tulips working overtime too
     — Roberta Beary
          *
At the window
The scent of peaches
Wants to go out
     — Angela Giordano
          *
winter is gone
summer will come —
I’m here anytime
     — Antonio Mangiameli 
          *
window desk 
a warm breeze shuffling
my papers
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
          *
spring
fresh cut flowers in our
receptionist’s
     — Michael Henry Lee
          *
building site
work stopped
bird's nest
     — Mike Gallagher
          *
springtime in the office
buying devil’s ivy
for the boss
     — Angelee Deodhar
          *
a touch of lemon
in her answering machine
rain or shine
     — Willie Bongcaron
          *
Spring rain
clouding the windows —
this temptation of office affair
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
          *
cherry blossom
the drones buzzing back and forth
office workers
     — Rebecca Harvey
          *
email out
spring clearance sale
gloves half price
     — Karen Harvey
          *
spring report —
a remarkable increase
in sneezes
     — Maria Laura Valente
          *
Van Gogh’s sunflowers . . .
It’s already spring
in  my office
     — Eufemia Griffo
          *
springtime
the business dress code
suspended
     — Marta Chocilowska
          *
pansies near the printer
. . . tapis roulant
before the salad
     — Elisa Allo
          *
first grade sunshine
not enough jars
for the handpicked posies
     — Marilyn Appl Walker
          *
spring moon
her appraisal rating
star-studded
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
          *
at the employee entrance
catching some rays
desk plants
     — Gail Oare
          *
indifferent
to the lunch crowd’s indifference
gymnastic pigeon
     — Amy Losak
          *
shareholders meeting —
full of rain
the spring clouds
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
          *
springtime
in with march madness
out with the office softball game
     — Jennifer Hambrick
          *
a vase on the desk 
flower heads nod
toward the window
     — Paul Geiger
          *
springtime 
the anticipated arrival
of a new secretary
     — Mohammad Azim Khan
          *
springtime in the office —
my wife is sacrificing style 
for comfort
     — Goran Gatalica
          *
mud flats —
beyond my office window
wild nasturtium
     — Arvinder Kaur
          *
office windows —
the blue of the sky is light 
on the roofs
dalle finestre —
è leggero sui tetti
il blu del cielo
     — Lucia Cardillo
          *
coffee break . . .
from the desk to the window
to gaze at the sun
     — Madhuri Pillai
          *
office in spring-time
the flower on her desk
a real one now . . .
     — Adrian Bouter
          *
office meeting
my turn to respond
to the blackbird’s call
     — Debbi Antebi
          *
the canteen
suddenly full of skin
spring peace
     — Lee Nash
          *
folding
another white paper
work desk blossoms
     — Anthony Rabang
          *
irises
on a coworker’s desk
quarter end
     — Deborah P Kolodji
          *
spring flowers 
the infighting moves
out of doors
     — Devin Harrison
          *

Next Week’s Theme: The Man (or Woman) from IT

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 24 April 2015.

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