I am surprised that so few poets responded to this week’s challenge. I would have thought the topic would have invited particularly welcome feelings about this whole enterprise of haiku in the workplace, and that we would have been inundated with success stories. Perhaps such emotion is better savored privately, or that much more difficult to limn in words. Whatever the reason, we had relatively few offerings this time round.
Consequently, we have fewer poems to share with you, so I thought we might take the opportunity to discuss a couple fine points that we’ve not mentioned in previous columns.
Typically, haiku do not employ certain of the traditional devices and techniques commonly associated with verse. For instance, you will hear it said that haiku eschews metaphor. This is somewhat ironic on its own terms, as a haiku is itself a metaphor. But this is to the point: employing a metaphor within a metaphor does create a kind of infinite regress, which can mitigate some of the effect of the poem. Of course this may be exactly the effect you want, so we ought never say never. But such poems do remain relatively rare.
That appears to be what is happening, for instance, in this poem:
slowly climbing free of last year’s dead leaves: forget-me-not stars [Sarah Leavesley]
I researched the phrase “forget-me-not stars” and found 1) the names of actors who appeared in a 2009 film titled Forget Me Not; and 2) registered names for a family of purebred whippets. So I am forced to conclude that either the poet is suggesting that actual stars are emerging from last year’s dead leaves (highly unlikely), or else s/he is employing “star” metaphorically, as a substitute for the flower (not exact, but possible). Even if we are inclined to grant license for such a phrasing, notice the path our minds must travel to arrive at a not entirely comfortable reading of the poem. Can this be the poet’s intent? To what end?
These are legitimate questions, since at least part of what we appreciate in any writing is the ability of the author to direct our minds to the end goal or state. When instead we are left to roam on our own, then alternative readings — distractions — may indeed turn up, and the overall satisfaction derived from the work is lessened. Had the poet not reached for metaphor here — had she written “forget-me-not-blossoms,” or, even more simply, “forget-me-nots” — we would not be distracted from the sense of the poem in any way. It may well be impossible to control every nuance of language at all times, even in such a short offering as a haiku, but surely we cannot have been intended to be considering whippet names here. This is part of the challenge introducing metaphor within metaphor can bring.
Here’s an instance where metaphor within metaphor works rather better:
centuries pass — the unseen hand of the forester [David Dayson]
This poem uses a technique called metonymy, wherein a part of a whole stands for the entirety, in this instance “hand” for the forester, but in fact what is intended is “handiwork.” This poem is clear to imagine, and the metaphor within the haiku does not distract us to arcane considerations of other matters. Still this poem must be regarded as “not quite” for a couple reasons.
The problem chiefly resides in what the poem actually, rather than metaphorically, says. Of course the “hand” of the forester is unseen (it would be rather ghastly were it otherwise). But “hand,” as we noted above, actually means “handiwork,” and if that handiwork is unseen, then what is this poem about? You can’t have the forester’s work both noted and unobserved at the same time. Since the poet is mentioning it, he must have noticed it. Suggesting otherwise is a device used to make the reader recognize the particular acuity of the poet’s observations, not the lack of evidence of the forester’s art. So, pleasing though the poem may seem in its execution, it actually falters conceptually.
Haiku are famously short, and the consequence of this is that every word, every nuance, every technique, is that much more obviously on display. It is no small feat to compose them so that they do not distract the reader from the desired object of attention. Basho, the patron saint of classical Japanese haiku, once suggested that a life in which a poet crafts 10 perfect haiku is not a life lived in vain. We might take this further — even a single perfect haiku is an achievement that few will realize.
Here, then, are the poems I feel most satisfy the thematic requirements for the week, and at the same time offer the best level of technical achievement. They are nearly identical, technically, with only their content giving them variety (which makes me consider that they may all have been written by the same hand (ah, metonymy again). As a result, I offer all three as this week’s top choices.
off stage — a piano tuner’s silent joy [David Dayson] closing the script a theatre prompter leaves — her lines unspoken [David Dayson] the long sighs of a safety officer — doing nothing [David Dayson]
The first of these, offered a couple weeks ago in a different context, is a pleasing sketch from the life of one subordinate but crucial to the success of artistic enterprise. The piano tuner will never be noticed in the fanfare and triumph of the concert, but a failure to do his work, precisely and in time, will be noticed by everyone. The fact that no one will need to know his name tonight is its own reward.
Likewise in the second instance, a nearly identical situation transferred from concert hall to the theatre. The presumption here is that the prompter has done her job so well that she has rendered herself unnecessary — exactly the circumstance she would most desire.
The third of these is slightly different, in that success here doesn’t resolve into joy, but ennui. The perfection of the task in hand, in all these poems, leads to inaction. It is the work that has been done prior to the event that is being rewarded, and in each poem this work is assumed, which makes for taut tellings of the consequence. This compression of narrative to the telling tableaux is very well handled. These are each excellent efforts, and, in considering the theme of a job well done, are themselves jobs well done. Nice work!
a job well done no fingerprints, witnesses or trace of the body — Michael Henry Lee * in a job well done — the feeding buzz — Ernesto P. Santiago * still working for the teacher’s gold stars my inner child — Rachel Sutcliffe * a job well done . . . completed task with a lot of self performance — Katherine Stella * job well done party — the blindfolded boss strikes a piñata again — Angelee Deodhar * a well done job — old values for excellent results — Doris Pascolo * his cash bonus her good job award pdf — Roberta Beary * making the deadline the hole punch my celebration — Mark Gilbert * year-end bonus — the CEO's compliment to the workforce — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams * recovered data — the boss is giving me a pat on the back — Marta Chocilowska * winter sun my job blows hot and cold — Celestine Nudanu * Michelangelo’s Pieta the master’s hands sculpt the eternity — Eufemia Griffo * a beautiful day the weddingplanner smiles and leans back — Kristjaan Panneman * well done! company staff salute the Barista’s efforts — Paul Geiger * home after work gold stars from her five-year-old son — Anthony Rabang * congratulations . . . the pressure mounting from the top — Angelo Ancheta * straightness of the bean rows — a simple nod from my father — Chad Lee Robinson * straight line roofer’s smile — Peggy Bilbro * beadwork the wisdom of checking every detail — Willie Bongcaron * tearoom drinks someone else now holding the baby — Marietta McGregor * painted apartment — morning sun shines on the new walls — Tomislav Maretic * painted sunset pausing to admire our project at deadline — Gail Oare * so many “Congrats!” — my name in all caps on their black list — Maria Laura Valente * applications thin all were selected a job well done. — S. Radhamani * Little value at work well done Bitter bitterness Poco valore al lavoro ben fatto Affogo l’amarezza — Angela Giordano * aiming for a breakthrough glass ceiling — Martha Magenta * a perfect poem — and now nothing more to say — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo * a job well done once again the boss hogs the credit — Madhuri Pillai * a job well done — only a shoulder pat and a wooden trophy — Adjei Agyei-Baah * the young boss’s approval a thumbs up emoji — Pat Davis * one year after . . . slowly rewinding Dad’s gold watch — Mark E. Brager * office boy in the project well done team for his inputs — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi * two words: well done! the expression on his face speaks volumes — Adrian Bouter * school year ends: finding out your students suddenly grown up — Elisa Allo * supermoon finally done with the project — Olivier Schopfer * an insect plays dead for a living — Danny Blackwell * at last Ulysses opened — Mike Gallagher * after letting my wife know she’s the boss — Cezar Ciobika * sliced cucumber so able to split up the time deserved by people — Lucia Fontana * tweaked to perfection . . . time for home — Karen Harvey *
Next Week’s Theme: The Broken Air Conditioner
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 15 June 2015.