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Haiku in the Workplace: The Man (or Woman) from IT

The first batch of submissions this week seem of decidedly poorer quality than our usual, and I wonder why this might be. One possible reason is that the poems came from sources other than the usual group of submitters who have been refining their poetic skills over the past half year and more by reading and contributing to this column. These have the look and feel, for the most part, of being by people making their first attempts at haiku, and who know primarily that haiku is “anything I want to say in 5-7-5 syllables.” As a consequence, much of the nuance and layering that many of you have begun to bring to your haiku is absent here, making quality selections that much harder to find.

Something about them does arrest me, however. I note that they are extremely similar to the (in)famous “Big Blue Haiku” that first made their way around the internet in the 1980s. These poems, which sought to combine a description of the small (but occasionally fraught) moments of the computer programmer’s life with the identity offered by a formal (if misinformed) rigor, had a short run as pop culture memes. At the time they were posted anonymously, but we have come to identify some of the poets involved, primarily through a contest held toward the end of the phenomenon’s run. A couple of the better examples:

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.
	David Dixon
I’m sorry, there’s — um —
insufficient — what’s-it-called?
The term eludes me . . .
	Owen Mathews
Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.
	Peter Rothman

These poems were written by engineers, and there is attached to them a certain dweeby jouissance. It is this similarity I note in my selections from the first category, titled The Man from IT. Many offerings were simply descriptive lists, and though occasionally astute or clever, offered none of the imagistic interplay that is the hallmark of good haiku. There was some fun character painting, however, such as:

Smartphone in pocket
licensed to make a killing
Bond of the laptop.
	[Helen Buckingham]

and there was a single most common reaction to his visit:

nimble fingers dance
advises turn on and off again
I feel stupid now
	[B Bickerton]

and not a universal reverence for his efforts:

the IT guru with
a mantra, fake panacea;
shut down and restart.
	[Noble Francis]

My third selection approaches the haiku norm a bit more by being primarily concerned with images. What a chilling vision the poet limns —

The servers are beasts.
Computers are how we breathe.
He oversees it all.
	[Belinda O’Shea]

Here the coder is cast as the Other, a slide-rule Pluto overseeing a dark underworld largely of his own making and certainly of his own maintaining. As usual, this reveals more about the mind of the poet than the subject of his brief portrait. What fearful symmetry she finds in this modern tyger! And the middle line is truly, and frighteningly, dystopic.

My second choice sees the coder in a more benign light:

I dreamt binary
love songs, the IT man who
knows — we’re one or none
	[Samantha Symonds]

romanticizing his obsession with zeroes and ones into a fleeting dream, a haiku that might have been written by Philip K. Dick. Even so, there’s a mathematical tweak in the third line that is unsettlingly inhuman, and which nicely catches the darker side of this kind of vision.

My top prize

a cursor appears
moving across the screen to
show he has arrived
	[David Osman]

has a deceptively light feel to it on the surface, but houses a much darker sense. The poet’s computer, ostensibly in need of repair, has been taken over remotely by the IT operative. Surely this is a good thing — the computer will be “fixed.” But only after the fact do we apprehend that what has in fact happened is the complete surrender of autonomy — we do call them personal computers, after all — to forces we do not comprehend (or else we’d be fixing it ourselves). Once he has arrived, this process will never be reversed, and it will never get simpler — and he has arrived.

The best of these to my mind, then, have called upon science fiction for their impact, but, chillingly, this is not fiction but rather the daily reality of the mind that cannot see into the mysterious world of coding — that is, for most of us.

New Poems

server down —
the tech guy pushes
my buttons
     — Roberta Beary
Ada Byron Lovelace —
the first woman who
whisperered to computers
     — Doris Pascolo
how small she is
who once more debugs
the office compiler
     — Sonam Chhoki
IT support 
helping me through
my clouds
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
the head of I.T.
on the fourth floor of
a three story office
     — Michael Henry Lee
the man from IT . . .
broadly consumed
a crop of infos
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
a shared glance
the IT guy
knows everything
     — Mark Gilbert
brandish marketing
technology mastering . . .
fabulous geek squad
     — Katherine Stella
IT man
the spy
who loves me
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
the IT sybil:
“try turning it off 
and on again”
     — Maria Laura Valente
incommunicado . . .
not really, it’s the guy
from sys admin
     — Marietta McGregor
IT technician
the trouble he takes
     — Willie Bongcaron
foggy morning
the IT man talks
     — Celestine Nudanu
girlfriend from IT —
she advises him to upgrade
his newest necktie
     — Marta Chocilowska
IT installing software —
chances for doom 
at 99 percent
     — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams
lost in translation
I nod sagely as 
he explains UNIX
     — Andy McLellan
at the plant nursery  
debugging the computers
     — Devin Harrison
I share grandma’s name 
with a stranger
security check
     — Peggy Bilbro
     — Mike Gallagher
my husband opines 
on IT at dinner:
I think of a haiku
     — Elisa Allo
bug search
a spider’s web
on the screen
     — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi
over the phone
step by step 
he leads me on
     — Madhuri Pillai
Woman technician
It will be more interesting
Tecnico donna
Sarà più interessante
     — Angela Giordano
planning a holidays site
the scent of the sea
brings me away
     — Eufemia Griffo
error . . .
this computer stop working —
recurrent nightmare
errore . . .
questo pc ti abbandona —
incubo ricorrente
     — Lucia Cardillo
     — Marion Clarke
heat lightning 
the IT guy scans
my 0s and 1s
     — Jennifer Hambrick
Easter morning —
light breaks forth onto
a dead monitor
     — Timothy J. Dickey
Botticelli’s Venus 
through daily crisis
     — Lucia Fontana
painting my nails 
waiting for the man 
from IT
     — Karen Harvey
the IT guy
sees me and scoots
left at the station
     — Michael Stinson
dead monitor
the blank stare 
of the IT man
     — Billy Antonio
solar eclipse —
somewhere in the IT man’s head
always a generator
     — Adrian Bouter
flu season
the IT specialist cleans
my infected computer
     — Olivier Schopfer
surprise surprise — a woman
the new grandmaster 
of the It department
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
pardon my ESL
but I cannot translate
broken Fortran
     — Ron Scully
jobs justified —
another change
in the website
     — Paul Geiger
dense fog
the woman from IT changes
her cover photo
     — Cezar Ciobika
my cursor
under his control
dormant mouse
     — Lee Nash
Downing the face
drowning on screen pages
today’s IT world
     — Purush Ravela

Next Week’s Theme: The Personal Performance Review

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 4 May 2015.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I love Roberta Beary’s haiku for this week!

    server down —
    the tech guy pushes
    my buttons

    I found it hard to write about the “man/woman from IT” because I am the woman from IT…

  2. ah…just missed that, I should submit my haiku:
    crossing my facebook screen
    red ladybugs
    while debugging
    three lines
    Juxtaposing C-sharp and Python
    i seek Ruby

  3. a cursor appears
    moving across the screen to
    show he has arrived
    [David Osman]

    Yes, a beaut. I’m used to it now, but when it first happened, a rerun of The Matrix happened in my head!

    These are my favourite Big Blue ku,

    You step in the stream,
    But the water has moved on.
    This page is not here.

    The Tao that is seen
    Is not the true Tao, until
    You bring fresh toner.

    A crash reduces
    Your expensive computer
    To a simple stone.

    With searching comes loss
    And the presence of absence . . .
    ‘My Novel’ not found.

    – Lorin

  4. Thank you for publishing my haiku this week Jim. Congratulations to everyone else.

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