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Haiku in the Workplace: The Conference Call

It seems impossible that we once traveled those hundreds — nay, thousands — of miles just to get a nod and a handshake. All those air miles and hotels and bars, that enormous carbon footprint, just to sell a few pots and reinforce our status as homo economicus. Now, from the comfort of our own offices, all we need do is click a button or two and we GoToMeeting.

But we might gather from some of our submissions this week that this is not an entirely happy development. Some of us miss the travel and (especially) the expense account. More than that, something of the personal has been lost.

with unfelt trust —
an electronic handshake 
seals the deal
	[David Dayson]

But there is no doubting that there are some perquisites to be had with our modern approach:

occasional interjection
invisible to others so
gaming on iPad

even if it still contains its share of banalities:

conference call —
salutations it is not
raining here also
	[David Dayson]

Still, that electronic distance is not always such a bad thing:

face to face
not as nice
as his voice
	[Marion Clarke]

My three top selections this week all have to do with our relationship with the new travel. Its relative distance and anonymity can spark an unexpected freedom, as in my third choice:

Skype hype —
we discover our hidden
TV personalities
	[David Dayson]

This willingness to expose ourselves to strangers in a way that we are most reluctant to do with our friends and family is one of the most interesting phenomena of the internet age, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be carried forth in our business dealings as well. The poet neatly observes and encapsulates our weakness for self-indulgence here, where “the stage” magnifies everything, and we take full advantage.

My second prize may seem as much paradigm as poem:

breaking up —
the conference stalls
sadly pixelated
	[David Dayson]

We know this is likely only a temporary situation, but there is yet something disheartening and at the same time seemingly inevitable about it. Such an event supplies a visual analog (and we are such visual creatures) for the fraught aspect of human communications, and this analog may be the very best thing that computers do for us. Technically, it is useful to the poet to hold the pixelation until the third line. This makes us curious about how the first two lines work together — how are we to read, especially, that first line (which phrasing is often used for personal relationship); and in what way does such a personal matter intersect with a “conference”? The visual cue clarifies.

This is a neat means of suggesting one of our many ways of relating to machines, but it is what we attempt to secret, from machines as well as humans, that take my top prize this week:

a deal seems done 
but the camera missed —
an off screen shrug
	[David Dayson]

Not even the ubiquitous internet captures everything, and it is here that the personal element in business dealings is most vividly exploited. That shrug would never have been overlooked in person, of course, but would it even have been made? Is this relationship heading for doom? The poem is ambiguous, and opens a host of questions about the nature of impersonal interaction, which seems the quintessence of this week’s issue. It’s possible the poet didn’t intend to imply all this — and possible he did — but the words, in any event, allow us to muse on what it is we have gained and lost in our “real time” connections across the room and around the world.

Even though this is my top selection, this doesn’t mean I don’t think it could be better. For instance, I don’t really like the punctuation here. The em-dash seems to break the poem just as it was gaining momentum. Perhaps it would be put to better use after the first line, thus:

a deal seems done —
but the camera misses
the off-screen shrug

And in such short poems as haiku, small details such as the selection of an article or the placement of punctuation can matter greatly. This poem carries the day with its openness to possibility, but it’s possible even for the best work, occasionally, to be brought to a point with a little extra attention.

New Poems

intently listening
to a conference call —
dolphin or whale?
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
unmuted —
wife’s tirade
halts the meeting
     — Enrique Garrovillo
conference call
outside the window
birds on a wire
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
at the end 
of the conference call
     — Roberta Beary
the conference call 
if they could 
see me now
     — Michael Henry Lee
boss on vacation!
waiting for the conference call
the team agog
     — Marta Chocilowska
convenient asset
In the conference call . . .
good ears
     — Katherine Stella
full moon
the whole time
conference call
     — Wilfredo Bongcaron
conference call —
the scent of coffee
comes in-between us
     — Ana Drobot
round robin . . . everyone speaks together
     — Paul Millar
roll call
the one time I heard input
from everyone
     — Pat Davis
I speak in delegation
My body language
Betrays my thoughts
Parlo in delega
Il linguaggio del corpo
tradisce i pensieri
     — Angela Giordano
conference call
a heated discussion
on climate change
     — Eufemia Griffo
I sleep through 
the teleseminar —
on Sleep Disorders
     — Angelee Deodhar
conference call 
my suggestions already
thirty seconds old
     — Andy McLellan
conference call
my daughter draws a gasp 
her naked bum
     — Celestine Nudanu
bad connection
with the suppliers — the crinkle
of a Ruffles bag
     — Michael H. Lester
one person sizzles
during the conference call 
haiku society officers
     — Carmen Sterba
too many bosses
around the oval table —
no decision yet
     — S. Radhamani
conference call
in no uncertain terms
the dog’s input
     — Madhuri Pillai
“is the biggest 
on here?”
     — Debbie Feller
muffled laughter . . .
the heavy breathing
of the boss’s Labrador
     — Samantha Sirimanne Hyde
already tomorrow
i hear myself
saying yes
     — Kerstin Park
conference call
to clear some problems
I file my nails
     — Peggy Bilbro
distant crows
the static of another
conference call
     — Gail Oare
singing in the wires
an earworm takes over
her conference call
     — Marietta McGregor
conference call
on the screen the big boss
with a big fly on his nose
     — Eleonore Nickolay
three hour t-con
shared objectives
soaked in sweat
     — Mark Gilbert
autumn leaves
how easily skype
lets go
     — Jennifer Hambrick
phone conference
standing out from the crowd
a sexy voice
     — Olivier Schopfer
head office
downgrading our job descriptions . . . 
conference call
     — Martha Magenta
stealing attention
from my fidget spinner 
conference call
     — Angelo Ancheta
end of concall
i review
my body language skills
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
conference call —
the cat claims
my sun patch
     — Arvinder Kaur
the conference call —
I have no need 
to check my look
teleconferenza —
non ho bisogno di controllare
il mio aspetto
     — Lucia Cardillo
Nixing the conference call
for once in my life
an eclipse
     — Stephan Massi
videoconference —
colleagues on other continents
in similar suits
     — Tomislav Maretic
riding . . .
my colleague’s voice 
surprises me uphill
     — Elisa Allo
pinching myself 
to stay awake, overseas
conference call
     — Karen Harvey
can you hear me now?
the boss’s secretary 
patches him in
     — Erin Castaldi
early morning
not many survive the call
     — Mike Gallagher
just there to take notes
no one really needs to know
fly on the wall
     — Trilla Pando
conference call 
interrupted by the sounds 
of a barking dog
     — Cezar Ciobika
staff retreat —
winding down with
group gossip
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah

Next Week’s Theme: After Failure

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 22 September 2015.

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