Have you ever noticed how anyone ever quoted on the subject of failure is anything but? This is not to say that Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill and Coco Chanel have never failed, but it is not their failures they are known for. So they hardly qualify as experts. Why do we never hear from John C. Turmel (look him up) or the 1962 New York Mets? Actually the Mets’ redoubtable manager, Casey Stengel, was quite quotable, and once offered this small gem on the topic: “Without losers, where would the winners be?” Where indeed.
The majority of submissions were again more aphoristic than imagistic, which might get you points in some venues, but not here. Haiku are at their best when they are image-based, and when their language does not tell the reader what to think or feel, and when the result does not appear as a bit of potted philosophy. We can appreciate the pithy expression of circumstance in such nuggets as
I never knew how High I had soared until I was shot down [Samuel Sibony]
but we can’t really accord it much artistic merit. Similarly, while the following makes for a fine allegory (which at least is a poetical mode), it is intended to be just that: an existential bromide for general application, and not the kind of extended comparison of specific images that marks achievement in our genre:
from the ashes of last year’s gorse fire — heather flourishes [David Dayson]
Of these little homilies, this one, that might be taken directly from a “haiku” self-help (self-helpku?) book, most appealed to me, though I don’t doubt it’s an idiosyncratic choice. At least it has humor to recommend it:
fail forward — banana skins propel us to success [David Dayson]
My three choices this week, as usual, rely more upon their images to do the work for them than merely rhetorical devices, but the linguistic presentation still matters to a very great extent. Consider how in my third choice the truncated third line leads us directly to a moment of attention:
for us no more than a far-off splash — but for Icarus [David Dayson]
This poem is an example of ekphrasis — a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art — as it references the famous Bruegel painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. In the painting, Icarus’s demise is but one small feature in a painting bustling with enterprise, agriculture and natural interest. The poet, too, minimizes the impact of the fall from the skies in the first two lines, but shifts our attention back to the drama in the third. The poem, then, features the imminent death, whereas the painting makes a point that death is simply one character in the drama. The poem, then, seems more caught up with the “story” than the painting. I would have liked an ellipsis at the end of line three, as without it there is some slight uncertainty on how to read the line.
My second choice conjures the different ends of the task that lies ahead, the energy of first coming to terms, and the potential harsh reality of failing at last:
Out of a job Bring out the rolodex Bring out the begging bowl [Samuel Sibony]
The mock-heightening of the situation can’t fail to lighten the moment, but what grounds it are the completely different yet equally real possibilities those images evoke. The diction — “bring out, bring out” — formalizes the poem and enhances the humor (and may also remind readers of a certain age of Monty Python’s “bring out your dead” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail). There is a certain bracing quality to phrasing the challenge in this way, a “making public” that challenges the new job seeker, and his willingness to see both extremes mixes humility in with that humor.
My top choice offers two sharply etched images which create an instant drama:
end of rope the clutching hands opted to pray [Ernesto Santiago]
The first line is fraught with danger, whether we be holding on to or suspended from it. We gather from the last two lines that this rope end has now eluded those hands, leaving them free for other gestures. Is the gesture chosen appropriate to the opportunity? Is there a better choice? The poet doesn’t attempt to answer these questions, but instead allows the reader to pose them to herself. Depending on our orientation we might find great comfort, or great futility, in that choice. But the poem doesn’t resolve the situation, and in truth, no matter how we have responded, there is still the matter of what actually happened to those hands after the poem concludes. Neatly constructed and profoundly provocative, in 9 words, putting Teilhard de Chardin (look him up) to shame. Good luck with the job search.
finally on the fourth try . . . blind audition — Willie Bongcaron * quarterly results the leaping frog misses the lily pad — Gail Oare * bad day at work going home to momma’s kitchen — Rachel Sutcliffe * swallow’s flight finally my resilience — Lucia Fontana * after failure . . . convincing help from an old frog — Ernesto P. Santiago * ice cream tub i triple scoop my workday — Roberta Beary * after failure pick up the broken pieces . . . toss in cesspool — Katherine Stella * team risk-taker reaping the rewards of failure — Enrique Garrovillo * Cheshire cat lapping up my dismissal for breakfast — Celestine Nudanu * big account lost — the bottled water order cut in half — Michael H. Lester * after failure . . . the fuzzy solace in a bottle of wine — Madhuri Pillai * the morning after dreaming the deal hasn’t died — Mark Gilbert * after failure . . . packing up my dreams in an old box — Eufemia Griffo * Black Monday in front of a closed bank clenched hands — Marta Chocilowska * among former colleagues in a bar we speak of the old days Tra ex colleghi Ritrovarsi dentro un bar ricordando i vecchi tempi — Angela Giordano * sister defeat leading me on to dais above me spider — S. Radhamani * the losing captain drinks from the victory cup champagne vinegar — Mike Gallagher * feeling like a failure . . . the quietness of falling snow — Olivier Schopfer * rounds of sake — finally i get over the rejection letter — Arvinder Kaur * crumpled paper crane I reshape my values and goals — Martha Magenta * digesting failure — in my black coffee a dash of brandy — Debbi Antebi * music festival listening to the silence of her fired son — Eleonore Nickolay * moving on after losing the best deal early bird — Angelo Ancheta * soul searching last thought on its timing — Srinivasa Rao Sambangi * like a child learning to walk . . . fall and then get up — Elisa Allo * after failure the see-saw again — Pat Davis * lost contract a drop in pressure in the boardroom — Lee Nash * after failure . . . awaiting the return of optimism — Tomislav Maretic * after failure — I win the lottery in my dreams — Ana Drobot * two fingers left no chance of failing this time — Marietta McGregor * after failure longer wait time in the loo — Alegria Imperial * after failure changing my approach to my boss’s wife — Cezar Ciobika * store closing how the shelves yellowed the lights drained — Ron Scully * blown mission a hole on the shoulder where the gold leaves were — Michael Henry Lee * after failure the ego boss covers his shame with a shade — Adjei Agyei-Baah * failure after failure . . . even if it takes forever — Willie Bongcaron *
Next Week’s Theme: BurnOut
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 29 September 2015.