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Haiku in the Workplace: Why We Haiku Here

A thing worth doing, in my opinion, must open up to the rest of the world. What is the point of a medical discovery, for instance, if it is confined to the lab? Or a mathematical breakthrough, if its implications aren’t brought to bear on the eleven dimensions of our universe?

Haiku is no different. If the point of haiku is to follow a set of rules to generate a recognizable kind of product that fits comfortably within the realm of what it is known to be, then what we are doing is more akin to puzzle-solving than to poetry. And this is fine for those who seek entertainment or distraction. But for haiku to be worth doing, it must engage the rest of the world — it must seek to matter. If it succeeds, even occasionally, it becomes significant, a contribution. This is why I have remained engaged with it for four decades, and do not feel I have exhausted its resources.

For example, consider Lew Watts’s poem from our column on “Travel”:

slow descent —
this sudden urge to share
life stories

This assertion of a common humanity, triggered by a moment’s anxiety, unites us in a palpable way, and in so doing draws each of us closer to our own, and others’, stories. It is stories, more than work or geography or even blood, that bind us together.

In our year together we primarily limited our topics in this column to those incidents most closely associated with work and its environment, as was befitting this column’s initial impetus in a business newspaper. This remained our nominal focus, as this was the context in which we spent much of our conscious time, and many of its topics recurred for us, and occupied our energy and thought. But we also enlarged our outlook: specifically, we inquired how this context was changing, in what ways the newness of the outer world filtered into the ways we spent our time day to day. Some of these changes were gradual — how, for instance, did a fractious political atmosphere affect the way we did business, and with whom, and for what (and changing) rewards? Some seemed abrupt, no matter how slowly they were put into play — when robots replace humans in any endeavor, for instance, it will never seem gradual to those replaced.

Some of the other issues we took up involved us all: how can we achieve a balance between the demands of work and the needs of the rest of our lives? That led us to consider what the relationship between work and personal happiness might be — to what degree do we need work to define us, to satisfy us, and at what point does work exhaust us and deprive us of the resources to discover that happiness within ourselves? How do we manage the mindspace we allot to work? Does it consume us? Are we defined by it? Or, rather, is it something extraneous to us that we tolerate only because it permits us to survive?

What about the work environment? Does the time spent getting to and from work count as work? Should we be compensated for it? Should we be permitted to work from home? How does this change our relationship to the job? To our private space? And what about the tribe that assembles in the name of our mutual employment — are they colleagues? Adversaries? Tools? What about the old-timers — are they sources of wisdom, or just in the way and using up resources? And the newcomers — are they the font of new ideas and energy, or just replacement parts for the time when we inevitably falter? And more, what about a collective mindspace that isn’t shared by any of us, but is the product of some artificial intelligence — how will we respond when that becomes our normative experience?

Ultimately, all of this will devolve upon us — to our strength of character, our will, our vision. So our most enduring topic must remain the behavior of the species, in particular those in most immediate proximity — those with power over our actions, those over whom we have power, and ourselves. This is the true evergreen resource for our poetry, and for everything else we do. We fascinate ourselves, in large part because we are so unlike other animals, who are predictable, even when enigmatic. We, on the other hand, behave in ways that defy our own understanding, and once we think we have caught up, will defy again.

We considered, and will continue to consider, all this and more through haiku, which is certainly not the only tool at our disposal, but it is a capacious and flexible one, with its own challenges and resources, and enough to matter if we make it so. I have enjoyed your ponderings and your poetry as we have explored what we do with the bulk of our lives — work. Thank you, and keep working!

New Poems

stealing a pencil
for my little boy
a haiku
     — Mark Gilbert
posting a haiku
breaking the tedium
of another working day
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
writing haiku —
even the moon
has a dayside
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
work history
a collection of poems on
multi colored post its
     — Michael Henry Lee
haiku eyes . . .
the secret weapon
of a writer
     — Willie Bongcaron
The “I don’t know (I don’t care )” — silence
an intelligent answer
it seems
     — Stefano Riondato
one theme
poly vocal rhythms
sound feel across the globe
     — S. Radhamani
big emotions
in seventeen syllables —
haiku at will
     — Angela Giordano
work stress 
but then the frog
jumps in
     — Roberta Beary
introspection —
one by one my thoughts
go online
     — Arvinder Kaur
on my horizon
ionized ball point
     — Ashoka Weerakkody
catharsis . . .
needs more time 
to write a fine haiku
     — Hifsa Ashraf
ginko walk
along the way
the world
     — Kerstin Park
outside the cubicle
haijin in the workplace
     — Pat Davis
we haiku here
because all of us
love haiku
     — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
healing . . .
a moment frozen
in words and shared
     — Madhuri Pillai
bitten nails a fragment of sky peeling off bark
     — Betty Shropshire
black brush
and white paper
scent of this rose
     — Christine Eales
awaking the world
out from daze and dream —
haiku offering 
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
Sunday evening
ritual submission
the least I could do
     — Ron Scully
weekly challenge
super motivated
haiku team
     — Olivier Schopfer
working lunch —
between bites
a poem emerges
     — Peter Jastermsky
the understatement of the year: why haiku?
     — Adrian Bouter
the office gloom
haiku fairy
     — Marietta McGregor
coffee break —
looking inadvertently
through the window
     — Tomislav Maretic
and closing on a personal note:
I love
haiku workshops
and you, Jim
     — Marta Chocilowska
Imagine that — our small gatherings of words inspiring love: what a wonderful world.

This is our last Haiku in the Workplace column. It will be replaced next week by a new column, Haiku Windows, hosted by Canadian poet Kathy Munro. Please give her the same wonderful support — and poetry! — that you have given us. We hope you’ve enjoyed putting your haiku to work. And we leave you with this offering on the same theme, by which you might consider your own growth as a poet. Keep working!

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 12 January 2016.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Thank you, Jim, for sharing your knowledge and love of all things haiku. As a newbie, I enjoyed the column, your critiques and the work of contributors from around the world. Wishing you continued joy in haiku in the New Year. Karen

  2. Thankyou Jim, enjoyed the challenge every week. All good things must come to end, will miss this weekly column. Wishing you all the best for 2018.

  3. Jim, thank-you for running this column week after week. Also thank-you for including some of my haiku.

  4. Thank you, Jim, for your work and inspiration. I participated, I read, I learned from so many other poets. Kudos to Jim and to everyone who contributed.

  5. Thank you Jim! I’ve enjoyed this blog and taking part in it very much, and look forward to the new one. I wish you and all the poets here a very wonderful new year!

  6. Every week an explosion of new haiku to read. Add in the teaching and excitement of seeing your work on the blog.

  7. It has been great for me to participate in an active haiku community for the first time, and also to discover that I can, after all, write spontaneously to a set theme at short notice. Thanks Jim.

  8. I rapidly became nostalgic towards your “workplace haiku” column, Jim! I am happy to have been take a part of this interesting chalenge you offered to all of us! My best!

  9. With much gratitude, thank you for the opportunity to explore and grow as haiku practitioners. It has been a wonderful and memorable experience! Best regards and greetings from far, far Manila.

  10. Thanks Jim, and a great thank you to all the poets who happily played along each week with one verse or several for everyone to read and enjoy. So many different ways to look at Work!

  11. Thanks, Jim and The Haiku Foundation, for this opportunity for growth. And thanks for reading my entries and selecting the best one of the lot for each week’s theme. I look forward to the new challenge! Best wishes to you.

  12. Good things end sooner, and here’s no exception. But the question may remain unanswered even after you are finished with us Jim. Why we haiku”?

  13. I really enjoyed the original column in the Financial Times, Jim, and it was even more fun combined with new work.

    Thanks again and best wishes for 2018.


  14. thank you JK. Besides fun, it is truly a great learning platform.

    Wishing everyone a blessed new year!

  15. Dear esteemed poet,
    Greetings! It was such a wonderful and innovative experience contributing
    i n this column and interacting with such talented writers. I was unfortunate that i was a late comer into this podium but felt better late than never. So sad to know that this will be our last
    in the haiku workplace column. wishing you all the best in all your endeavor and HIS BLESSINGS.
    With regards

  16. it was a real pleasure to participate in your haiku column

    I wish you a bright and serene future

    Happy New Year Jim

  17. Thank you, dear Jim for your effort, help and care you offered us for such a long time. It was a wonderful experience for me, I was happy and honoured that I could take part in this event and share your comments as well as new poems published with Buds of haiku group members on fb.
    I wish you a happy, fructous and full of poetry New Year.

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