One of the tropes of haiku is that it engages “beginner’s mind.” This is a state wherein we are completely receptive to whatever happens, alert to change, free from judgment, and lacking anticipation. We are right here, right now, and we embrace it.
Which, as we all know, is fine when you are in a completely comfortable and confident state, or the exact opposite state one find’s one’s self in when beginning a new job. Here we know that a steep learning curve lies just ahead of us, that our ability to traverse this climb will determine if we’re allowed to continue, and that we will need to assimilate our new routine and environment as quickly as possible in order to fit in. The stress of these challenges is enormous, and yet there is much to recommend such a move. We do indeed become hyperalert, and the possibilities of newness are refreshing and very often pay dividends within and without the workplace. We meet new people, travel new routes, and test our skills in ways we’ve never tried. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we get paid well.
Many of our poets chose to explain just these sorts of things in their work, rather than treat them as the context out of which their poems arose. This one, for instance, is so pointed that it hardly needs to be placed in the context of this survey:
New kid on the block Keeping low so not to be New neck on the block [Mike Franklin]
Fitting in is a particularly recurrent theme, and, to judge from your submissions, the source of most consternation. This one is perhaps the most specific:
Tightening at the neck: no one else was wearing a tie. [Collin Dardis]
Then there were the minor inconveniences that accompany newness, as in this vignette:
Knocking at the glass, she wondered when her ID card would arrive. [Collin Dardis]
And of course the indoctrination process always offers its challenges:
work induction — gently anaesthetised by training videos [David Dayson]
Occasionally for some a shift of routine can trigger to something darker:
At their desks no one noticed him breaking the water cooler. [Collin Dardis]
Your submissions also offered a nice “teaching moment.” Compare if you would these two poems:
first day — so many introductions all forgotten [David Dayson] Anna, Claire, Greg, Matt, Pete, Sam, Simon, Sue, Tim, Tom, Will, Will, Anna . . . [Sarah Leavesley]
The subject matter is identical, and each approach has its own felicities. In the former, the first line opens the poem to multiple contexts — school, work, the playground, a wedding or a funeral — but later tells us the consequence, leaving little for the reader to do other than affirm. The second approach is much more specific in what it offers, and the repeated names are tantalizing — are there really 2 Wills, 2 Annas, or is the poet getting confused? Which also underscores the challenge of getting the lay of the land. However, in this form the poem gains much by being discovered within the context of poems written to this subject. Encountering it on its own, a reader might have a great deal more difficulty understanding that it purports to be more than a list, and in fact is a commentary on the rigors of introductions. Both these approaches have their merits, as well as their challenges.
My top three this week all offer some literary attribute which distinguishes them from the rest. My third choice offers an original coinage:
first day at work — with a flutter of newrosis butterflies settle [David Dayson]
A word that describes a “disorder as a result of newness” seems missing from our current stock for describing the modern condition, and is a welcome addition. And of course the butterflies are both actual and literal.
My second selection
recruited — well suited a career rebooted [David Dayson]
employs rhyme, which is rarely encountered in haiku, since in such a short form such an effect might easily overwhelm other features. Here, however, I feel the rhyme suggestively reinforces the content — the recurrence of the same “oo” sound creates a mood (sorry) of repetition — another place with other people, but the same job. The suit may have changed, and I may have been sought out, but it is to familiar territory I will be moving.
The best of the current crop, however, I felt to be
a chameleon brightens with the move — to a new branch [David Dayson]
On my first reading I felt the third line might be a bit of a wasted opportunity — of course the chameleon changes when it moves to a new place. But I decided that the neat metonymy actually enhanced the overall effect, and anchored the poem to the specifics of the poet. Additionally, this poem is the most characteristic of traditional haiku of these noted, relying upon image to convey the import of the poem without recourse to explanation, interjection or imposition. That is, it features poetry mind rather than prose mind, a transformation more challenging to make than any a chameleon might undertake. Well done.
braille characters — gazing at the world with someone else’s eyes — Stefano Riondato * the new girl — everybody calls me by a different name — Maria Laura Valente * first day someone else’s post-its in my cubicle — Mark Gilbert * summer job amazed at the proby’s disarming PR — Willie Bongcaron * work-from-home the need to impress slightly greater — Shloka Shankar * new job the secretary’s face at my too tight suit — Celestine Nudanu * first coffee break — I am the only one drinking green tea — Angelee Deodhar * new job the exchange of tampons — Roberta Beary * the rookie . . . in and out of the office a fruit fly — Ernesto P. Santiago * first day at the new job — an important challenge “on tiptoe” — Doris Pascolo * morning rumbling butterflies dance in stomach first day on new job — Katherine Stella * a rookie mistake her first and last day on any job — Michael Henry Lee * induction day learning all the exits — Brendon Kent * first day on the job how my face shines in new shoes — Rachel Sutcliffe * first day tapping my instinct to guide me — Angelo Ancheta * new job . . . I feel just like Alice in front of the queen — Eufemia Griffo * “smile!” says my boss through gritted teeth — Debbie Feller * new girl her skirt already too short — Jessica Latham * first day at work someone else’s family in my top desk drawer — Terri French * first job the boss’s blue eyes smile at me — Marta Chocilowska * shooting star my new office down one of these halls — Gail Oare * on meeting new cohorts I turn myself inside out — Devin Harrison * new job . . . with a smile my husband went to the wrong office — Elisa Allo * on time for the new job my mismatched socks — Billy Antonio * dawn — the job ushers me into adulthood — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams * starting a new job my first day of kindergarten — Olivier Schopfer * New city First day on the job Among perfect strangers — Angela Giordano * first day at the new job — a rubber spider in the desk drawer — Chad Lee Robinson * new job . . . I slide into the drawer mother’s photograph — Madhuri Pillai * I sign their contract for a key to the bathroom gauge of commitment — Michael Stinson * new job a meerkat reads the landscape — Jennifer Hambrick * first day all I can think about is my daughter — Christina Sng * stethoscope, pager key to the morphine cabinet her first round — Lee Nash * size matters — on introducing it’s the boots that got most attention . . . — Adrian Bouter * semi-retired . . . I welcome with a smile new hires quasi in pensione accolgo con un sorriso i nuovi assunti — Lucia Cardillo * hiding my nerves the loud squeak of new shoes — Andy McLellan * tiny green stem, a weed shoots up after rain. I greet new colleagues — Timothy J. Dickey * first day knowing winks — at my brown bag — Paul Geiger * first day at the new job a declining graph: enthusiasm over time — Anthony Rabang * insomnia — a last night before the first day — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo * first day at work my tea-making skills an asset — Karen Harvey * maiden flight the gull’s wings through sea of clouds — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi * first day at work my undercover boss turn up as waitress — Adjei Agyei-Baah *
Next Week’s Theme: The Office Retreat
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 18 May 2015.