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.
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 photoshopping — Willie Bongcaron * foggy morning the IT man talks mumbo-jumbo — 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 hoverflies — Devin Harrison * I share grandma’s name with a stranger security check — Peggy Bilbro * FAQ ?NFRU IT♀R♂ — 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 information Tecnico donna Sarà più interessante l'informazione — 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 * expert advice reboot — 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 rebirthing — 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!
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 4 May 2015.