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Haiku in the Workplace: The Office Retreat

The only office retreats I have observed were extremely modest affairs, conducted in slightly shabby, if remote, locations in the presence of a mere handful of participants. There were usually exercises, communal meals, a slate of objectives, and a central metaphor or slogan that was intended to tie the whole event together. Still, it was usually pretty tame stuff, not too much of a stretch for anyone, and certainly grounded in the realities of the corporate ethos. I was rather shocked, then, when met with the scale of mythos the concept of retreat evoked in at least one poet:

Canute calming tides
to still blue; dream of islands
surviving brute waves
	[Sarah Leavesley]

The following effort, tongue firmly in cheek (if far far away) is more in line with my own expectations:

the office retreats —
to boldly go where everyone
has gone before
	[David Dayson]

And of course we do not change our spots, as this poet notes:

we retreat to find —
our hidden Tigger instead 
just inner Eeyore 
	[David Dayson]

What we are here we will be there. And:

we retreat to find
our common humanity —
in a budget hotel
	[David Dayson]

The circumstances will not matter, so why break the bank? Cynical, perhaps, but probably canny as well.

The interest for most of the submissions this week were along these lines: either musing on the point(lessness) of such a practice, or else evoking the humor inherent in changing venues to discover new ways of thinking or being, and finding largely the same things. None of the poems really rose to the challenge of art, and certainly not to the classical exactions which haiku demand: a pairing of image which are allowed to carry the emotional freight; a cut or caesura to provide the gap which the energy of the images sparks across; a seasonal word that ties events to the natural sequencing of the year. Haiku is nearly always best performed in familiar surroundings, in the discussion of everyday experiences and actions. It’s what surprises us in the quotidian that makes for the best haiku. Perhaps shifting location and routine is not ideal for its practice.

Nevertheless, I have picked out a couple of poems that seem to me a cut above the rest, for one reason or another. For instance, my third choice seems a homely homily on human behavior, true enough of most of us most of the time:

we retreat to complain —
poor quality coffee but
drank it all the same
	[David Dayson]

We may aspire to more, but we need what we need, now, and pretty much take it as it is when we can.

Of course the hope is that we will be changed by the experience, that it will alter our reality and make us more capacious, more creative. An awareness of the process as it occurs might help:

Pulses change, time slows;
each unwatched hour away brings
ninety new emails.
	[Sarah Leavesley]

Or perhaps it will just put us in mind of our usual selves. We know we need to let go, to let the newness not just surround, but enter, us. My top choice this week is on board with this idea:

warm up exercises
we imagine a hat to wear —
but I just ate mine
	[David Dayson]

Does this exempt him? Or does it free him from all constraints? Only the poet knows, and he’s not saying. Perhaps it is his story that will be the central metaphor for next year’s retreat . . .

New Poems

team building retreats
the distinctive behaviors
of foraging bees
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
meditation —
in my mind
only the sound of silence
     — Doris Pascolo
group getaway —
looking for a midnight snack
I meet the boss
     — Angelee Deodhar
team building
on the office retreat
our raft sinks
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
bursting mims
coastal office retrieval . . .
bearing no bosses
     — Katherine Stella
first office retreat —
finally I see the faces
behind the masks
     — Maria Laura Valente
office retreat
I reconsider
my drink limit
     — Tiffany Shaw-Diaz
brownie points
I try to beat myself
at snooker
     — Mark Gilbert

the office retreat
our conversation revolves 
around the weather
     — Michael Henry Lee
office retreat
a whiteboard
full of unicorns
     — Jennifer Hambrick
team building
the bold move to start
from scratch
     — Willie Bongcaron
a pillar of plastic 
instead of insurance —
workplace trophy
     — Nicholas Klacsanzky
office retreat
finally bonding on the approach
to the flying fox
     — Marietta McGregor
office snake
hangs about the yoga group
playing the long game
     — Martha Magenta
picnic table
discovering the person
opposite you
     — Danny Blackwell
office retreat
discussing the  boss’ girlfriend
next door
     — Celestine Nudanu
office retreat
brings a new perspective
boss in his swim trunks
     — Andy McLellan
staff retreat
in the sunshine
our bright ideas
     — Olivier Schopfer
his   pile of   memos 
i  rescind  my  order 
back   to   my  farm
     — Radhamani Sarma
office retreat  
deeper and deeper in the lawn
spike heels
     — Marta Chocilowska
corporate retreat —
the boss unleashes
her boxer
     — Roberta Beary
changes . . .
door closes
on my old life
     — Eufemia Griffo
at staff retreat
we do the hokey-pokey
to turn ourselves around
     — Michael Stinson
office retreat
at the cocktail hour
I embellish my story
     — Madhuri Pillai
sales retreat
the same old business casual
with a new wrinkle
     — Gail Oare
deep dive talk
in the company 
lone wolves
     — Angelo Ancheta
a scavenger hunt
for team building —
what about  losers?
     — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo
emptying medical studio
. . . can the Rorschach test
predict my future?
     — Elisa Allo
to forget
telephone and clock —
owner of my time
telefono e orologio . . .
padrona del mio tempo
     — Lucia Cardillo
vetoed for the theme
of our office retreat
murder mystery
     — Lee Nash
at the retreat
dragonfly wings in morning sun —
koi pond shimmers
     — Paul Geiger
company retreat
I rediscover my passion
for the boss’s wife
     — Cezar Ciobika
moon-filled lake . . .
our boss changes into
his soft voice
     — Brendon Kent
we come out
of our shells
     — Debbi Antebi
team building —
the jack-of-all-trades
     — Anthony Rabang
staff retreat
the tipsy manager
gestures me to chamber
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
into my shell to think, write
     — Karen Harvey
out of the office —
even the boss today
looks like one of us
fuori dall'ufficio —
anche il capo quest'oggi
sembra uno di noi
     — Angela Giordano
of a ceiling fan
planning retreat
     — Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff
liquor and laughter
loosening tongues and manners
by the hour
     — Mercy Ikuri

Next Week’s Theme: The Ideal Boss

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 25 May 2015.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dear Jim,
    This column is one of my favourites as it has humour and pathos all in one.So much to learn from your commentary too.
    Thank you.
    With best wishes,

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