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Haiku in the Workplace: Women in the Office

Is it serendipitous that we’re having this conversation one week after our topic was “Anger Management”? Why are we having this conversation at all? Why did we ever?

It’s hard to remember the bad old days, even if they weren’t all that long ago, but I wonder how deep-seated our new-found egalitarianism runs. We Yanks have removed slavery as national policy more than a century and a half ago, but a recent poll of Donald Trump supporters (I know, I know . . .) found that fully 20 per cent felt the Emancipation Proclamation had been a “mistake.” Now it’s possible that many, or even most, of those respondents did not know what the Emancipation Proclamation stated (though it was defined in the poll question), but it is still alarming to recognize the shelf life of that sort of prejudice. And I wonder if it really can be all that much different in this other, newer emancipation.

To judge from your responses, at least those office folk who write haiku have acclimatized themselves to the new reality, seemingly without rancor, but the insistence of old metaphors was interesting:

kitchen politics —
cooking up schemes
knitting alliances
	[David Dayson]
women blend roles
to multi-task with ease —
such smoothies
	[David Dayson]
only women can
knit divided attention —
into harmony
	[David Dayson]

This is intentional, of course, so I don’t mean to be casting aspersions, but does the retention of outmoded metaphor, even to make a point, help or hurt the cause? I really don’t know. At the same time, simply cross-referencing metaphors also seems to leave the question open:

women man up —
while men get down to 
their feminine side
	[David Dayson]

Again and again it was your metaphors that drove the topic, from both sides of the aisle:

Glass half full
Ceiling flaw
Shattered dreams
	[Alex Killick]
women working
the touchy subject
of being a flower
	[Ernesto P. Santiago]

The fact that the language is fraught is surely an indication that these issues are far from resolved, not just culturally, but personally. The main topic, after all, seemed to be aspiration:

an office 
fully manned —
by women
	[David Dayson]

and the main filter, role:

queen bee —
her neutered males
hived off 
	[David Dayson]

So in selecting my winners this week, I was guided less by poetic niceties and more by cultural acuity: what is our personal stake in this evolution of roles in the public sphere?

My second prize seems a clear yawp from the seat of our emotions: the fear of rejection.

jobs unsexed —
why o why a y why
not a double x
	[David Dayson]

Life is contested enough, why make it even tougher? is the sentiment here. When women are allowed to compete, the competition effectively doubles (or will when women are allowed to compete everywhere). While it is possible to read this as a complaint, I see it as a cry out of the wilderness, in quite clever cover. It may not be pc, but it is honest, and honesty will be essential to working our way through this issue.

My top winner, more mantra than haiku, could easily be adopted as a slogan for a movement:

to work
to child
to be
	[John Hollister]

The repetition of “to” in each instance renders each phrase an infinitive verb: that is, not an action word, but an idealization of an action — not the act of working, but the possibility of such an act. This mannerism causes the reader to take in the poem in the largest possible context, and to wonder why it is presented in such truncated form. What about “to work”? Which contains, of course, its opposite, which is exactly the breadth of space the poem seeks to occupy in your mind. It is interesting to me that this is possible primarily in two spheres: the realm of the small, where haiku generally dwell, and the realm of the very large, where haiku resonate. Quite a feat for six words, and an open challenge, without resolution or judgment, on the larger issue of the relation between the sexes.

New Poems

office full of women
the inevitable
queue for the loos
     — Rachel Sutcliffe
only men
at the office party
     — Johnny Baranski
carelessly leaning
against his office desk
her bike with basket
     — Ernesto P. Santiago
the sharp way he says my name
his half moon moves up and down
     — Ashish Narain
women in the workplace for less
     — Michael Henry Lee
a brand new red lipstick
I learn to be more assertive
she’s half my age
     — Karoline Borelli
an education
of salads
     — Mark Gilbert
my gf and I
in the canteen
a pair of buzzing lips
     — Willie Bongcaron
millennial workplace
the boomer colors her gray
more often
     — Amy Losak
office gossip —
the sharp sound of painted nails
on the keyboard
     — Arvinder Kaur
she is my colleague
  who loves going out on a mission
with male partners
     — Angela Giordano
high heels’ click-clack —
wilted office plants
straighten up
     — Marta Chocilowska
his compliment
carefully worded
the #MeToo era
     — Pat Davis
long fingers
working the logic probe
mother board
     — Ashoka Weerakkody
often in the office
in the women’s drawers
lipstick and mascara
     — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore
the cleaner
mopping the office floor
     — Mike Gallagher
office home duties
new boss’s roster
for her male staff
     — Madhuri Pillai
any objection
to an out-of-order-miniskirt
     — Stefano Riondato
some discuss saris 
some women away from seats  
more men’s rivalry
     — S. Radhamani
women’s dress code . . .
sexual harassment
suits for the men
     — Martha Magenta
women behind the desk
talking about 
the last rendez-vous
     — Elisa Allo
smooth running
the company
on Olympus
     — Paul Geiger
beyond tough language a line of smiles
     — Adrian Bouter
Aphrodite smiles
as she swishes round the room
flash of lightning
     — Christine Eales
female colleague 
she still looks good
in that color
     — Peter Jastermsky
her paycheck
next to his 
three-quarter moon
     — Jennifer Hambrick [Modern Haiku 48.2]
cardinal sings
on an icy branch —
her fresh perspectives
     — Timothy J. Dickey
she takes
another day off work
sick child
     — Olivier Schopfer
Hard to be heard
Become hard to be heard
Red nails on keyboard
     — Tricia Knoll
before she leaves for work
a toothpaste flavored kiss
     — David Oates
the petty cash tin’s 
dismal rattle
     — Marietta McGregor
why oh why?
every female boss
has a big attitude
     — Carmen Sterba
chill air
she whooshes in with the scent
of blood moons
     — Alegria Imperial
autumn rain —
women’s wet umbrellas  
in the office foyer
     — Tomislav Maretic
the longer
queue for the bathroom
fixing her mascara
     — Karen Harvey
the boss baby comes to work
in moccasin and leaves
in stiletto heel
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah
women in recruitment 
everyone is concerned
about the dress code
     — Hifsa Ashraf

Next Week’s Theme: Why We Haiku Here

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 8 March 2016.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Dear esteemed poet,
    Greetings! Women and their attitude in different situations, how well depected
    by writers.
    with regards

  2. Thank you very much for this topic, Jim. I am very strongly connected to my gender and I think that world without women would be much poorer. Unfortunately, in my country, women are treated very badly by the current government, which, including the catholic church, is against gender and anti-power convention. I think it’s a huge shame.

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