This week’s submissions mostly divided themselves into a trio of contexts. The first of these, as we might imagine, is “the office” or workplace itself. One poet finds balance in the office environment by inviting the natural world in:
office window-sill spreading crumbs for blue-tits Katherine Gallagher
Another notices that the office finds its own balance:
a sudden burst of
laughter behind a closed door
And another suggests that a balance has been found (though perhaps enigmatically) in the very act of writing about it:
a phone rings in an empty office— poet’s day Tim Gardiner
The second context, which I’ll call “screens,” is the pervasive (and cursed) mediator between these realms of our lives. What a modern affliction this first poem reveals:
A quick weekend trip— I managed to sneak away! To check my email Kerstin Dittmar
And no less touching and pathetic:
emails stack up on the flickering screen— a hoover wails Tim Gardiner
The third context is outside the office—anywhere else, really. That’s where we might notice that our family obligations are getting short schrift:
The weekend is old By the time I fully hear My children's laughter. Gwyneth Box
Or else we might notice a different sense of our selves—I am almost tempted to say, a kind of freedom:
Along the cycle path sycamore seeds and dragonflies speed me homewards ?
And then there is the sad situation of imbalance—the other way:
all balance no work a Starbucks of CEOs— Gen Y selfie Andrew Coleman
I couldn’t decide on just three poems this week, so I hope you will permit me the license of sharing my favorite four with you.
My third place poem is from “outside the office:”
in the park wind ruffling my portfolio notes Judy Kendall, England
This poem uses a slight misdirection, so that the third line can surprise and amuse the reader, and deepen the import. What seems perfectly idyllic—a moment in the park, the wind rising gently—brings us home again to the fact that we’re only taking a respite from our work. But finding a way to bring such a respite into a busy day is itself a kind for victory, and the poem celebrates that without actually naming it.
My second place winner is from “the office,” and is a kind of “screen” poem as well:
weekend overtime the kids all smiling at me from a photo-frame Lynne Rees, England
This poem is very well crafted, with the third line again timed for maximum surprise and impact. It’s also a 5-7-5 syllable poem, but so skillfully managed as not to seem wordy or over-long, as is often the case with such efforts in English. And of course it contains worlds of emotional power—not only the yearning for actual face-time with those kids, but also the sense of necessary sacrifice in forgoing that time to supply them with other things they need.
My co-winners this week are both selected for their pathos, their exact limning of an emotionally fraught moment without excess or comment, and their command of the form. The first:
the programmer woken by a sleeping screen to offline loneliness David Dayson, England
captures an element that is perhaps new to the world: the collocation “offline loneliness” I think to be quite special. Has it ever been possible to be more lonely than within the context of ubiquitous interconnectivity? Has social media made lack of contact unbearable? We can envision the woken programmer, bathed in the soft glow of diodes, feeling quite unattached in a world of electrons, and feel her pain all the more keenly for our own “screen” experiences.
home from the night shift a quick kiss in the doorway as she leaves for work Andrew Shimield, England
achieves much the same pathos but in the human realm. This poem is a beautiful illustration that symmetry is not always balance. The price we pay for our daily bread can be higher than we even imagine, so the recognition of the processes by which we pay can be essential to our finding our balance. Writing such a poem can be a first step towards assessing the choices we make, however inevitable they may seem.
Congratulations to all who submitted for your willingness to address these issues, and I hope the process not only challenged but enlightened you. Most of all, keep writing!
day’s end . . . cleaning women on the bus speak their mother tongue — Charlotte Digregorio (bottle rockets 24, 2011) * sleep hacking the number of hours to work or not to work — Ernesto Santiago * always in a hurry — the children are grown without my knowledge — Maria Teresa Sisti * working overtime I almost forget my way home — Rachel Sutcliffe * any day I write a poem is a good day — Mark Gilbert * commuting home — I call to give him dinner instructions — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo * back from work I reassemble the pieces of my true self — Olivier Schopfer (Under the Basho, “One-line Haiku”, 2015) * circus juggler his wife, his mistress on the same night — Johnny Baranski * sunlit margins ever left-justified laissez faire nights — Jan Benson * dentist office window: the jack-’o-lantern’s toothless grin — Elliot Nicely (Frogpond 36.1) * watching the work swim away the heron — Jennifer Hambrick * the conference . . . mom calls me to ask how are you? — Nikolay Grankin * after hours we take work to the bar — Christina Sng * her childcare bills outstrip her wages summer thunder — Marietta McGregor * recession — my pension plans down the drain — Pasquale Asprea * the 405 commute she steers with her elbows — flossing — Marilyn Appl Walker * client call — someone’s mother cheers my daughter's home run — Roberta Beary * climbing up the coconut tree — a little closer to sky — Pravat Kumar Padhy * coffee break the scowl of the boss so eloquent — Eufemia Griffo * I punch the badge — only twenty minutes for my son’s pool lesson — Elisa Allo * nine to five average work week the see-saw — Paul Geiger * coffee break the swirls in my mandala — Billy Antonio * tipping point work folders fall over my family photo — Debbi Antebi * switching into night mode firefly — Brendon Kent * a nugget in this lode somewhere — Elaine McCoy * heartfelt balance after all these years not invisible yet — Goran Gatalica * late again — “writing haiku” not an option — Marion Clarke * lunch time yoga at the work station I straighten the productivity chart — Madhuri Pillai * piano tone restored workplace stress — MR QUIPTY ° home again after a week on the road plum blossoms — Deborah P Kolodji, (Close to the Wind, 2013) * get out in a hurry — in my work bag a nappy — Maria Laura Valente
Next Week’s Theme: Retirement
Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!
From 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 9 October 2014.