Perhaps I’m not making myself clear: the best haiku are not just jokes or aphorisms or whatever one might shoehorn into 17 syllables. Nevertheless, these tropes continue to dominate the submissions to this column. This week’s topic, “Miscommunication”, lends itself as an opportunity to address these continuing misconceptions.
So let’s be clear: all the poems you will read below are haiku, but, as with so much else, there are haiku and then there are haiku. That is, there are levels of accomplishment, and we’ve been at this long enough now to be making positive strides up that ladder. A useful analogy might be football — no, I mean football. (Just because I’m a Yank doesn’t mean I don’t know what football is.)
When you watch Chelsea or Liverpool (or, horrors, Barca) playing, you recognize that the level of performance is very high (well, usually). But when you watch a group of 5-year-olds stumbling around the pitch, passing to no one in particular (or no one at all), and drifting off into a self-stimulated daze, we don’t say “that’s not football”. We recognize it for what it is — a beginner’s level.
Most of the efforts we see here are beginner’s level haiku, which is fair — none, or nearly none, of you are professional haiku poets, and you have day jobs, so you are perhaps not cultivating these skills as quickly as you might should you devote most of your waking hours to it. Nonetheless, I’m challenging you to raise the level of your game, to move beyond beginner’s level haiku. Here are three basic things you can do right away that will improve your work:
1) Work in Images — rather than give us the abstract conceptualization, give us the image(s) that suggest it. In this poem
communication — or where confabulation merely overlaps [David Dayson]
can you visualize “communication”? Or even the overlap of confabulation? What do we see when we try? Do we visualize the same thing as the poet has in mind, or that other readers do? This is the poet’s task, to let the reader see (or hear, or feel) the trigger for the insight. Imagery is our basic tool for this.
2) Avoid Generalities — the best haiku are about specific events, real or imagined, rather than abstractions. A poem like this
blundering into the komyunikeshon gyappu — between cultures [David Dayson]
tells us the general situation, but a Premier League haiku would give us the specific incident where we recognized its truth.
3) Let the Poem Be About Itself, Not About You — there is a great temptation to appear witty and in control of the situation in everything we do and say, but the goal here is not to perform but to invite others into our experience. Jokes are fun but they are generally closed — our interest ends when they end. Good poetry opens — the reader or listener is rewarded for continuing to think on the words shared. So this is fun
"Siri, Help me, I am shot!" Did you mean: "Hold me, I am hot!"? [Samual Sibony]
and maybe even an actual experience (though I doubt it), but ultimately is about the writer, not about the reader.
By way of further example, here’s a missed opportunity:
between words — so much to be understood from silence [David Dayson]
The first line is wonderful. It places us in the middle of a fraught, quite likely personal, moment. There is a pause in the middle of communication — why? The reader wants to know. Is the speaker having second thoughts? Has he forgotten what he wished to say? What would cause him to do so? Or is he waiting for some kind of response?
Unfortunately this is followed, not by a clinching image, but rather by a platitude. What if the poet hadn’t tried to explain to us what silence might mean, but rather pointed us beyond the silence he had already conveyed with the first line? I hope the poet will reconsider this poem and let us all see what was significant enough in that moment that he wished to share it.
So, with these guidelines in mind, please consider the following poems, the best of this week’s submissions. See if you think they work in images, avoid generalities, and are about the poem rather than the poet. Do you think you could now improve them?
someone interprets the things someone else assumes spread like a virus [Ernesto Santiago] okay is OK — its many meanings all korrect [David Dayson] all I needed was hard boiled words — instead a soufflé [David Dayson] linguistic baggage — so many words packed tight into small ideas [David Dayson] when bad is so good and really sick is awesome — words mean whatever [David Dayson] a growing friendship two photos on saturday no response: the end. [Monika Dunkel] not saying no with nuanced ambiguity — a door left ajar [David Dayson]
My top choice this week clears all three hurdles we’ve discussed:
“Lol xxx” Lots of love or Laughing out loud? [Samuel Sibony]
The image is that of a written or texted communication, and we can all see that clearly. The poem doesn’t generalize about this sort of communication, but provides a specific instance of it. And its humor is open-ended, and provides more than a laugh. We can enter the poem, and even place ourselves in the position of receiving and trying to parse such a communication. The poem grows deeper from such consideration. This poem has made no miscommunication, but has indeed raised itself well above entry level. Nicely played.
in French Time the lunch break the park — Joseph Salvatore Aversano * treacherous path — no way back from “reply all” — Gail Oare * team meeting one colleague gets what I’m saying — Rachel Sutcliffe * 1 a.m. he tells us I want it done today — Marita Gargiulo * misunderstanding the misuse of mouth to mouth — Ernesto P. Santiago * Looking for a work a word a world — Stefano Riondato * work etiquette . . . everyone laugh louder than the boss — Hifsa Ashraf * communicative blackout — a treasure for a few the truths of all — Alessandra Delle Fratte * serious problem — the face-to-face solution — Angela Giordano * Christmas eve the assembly instructions lost in translation — Michael Henry Lee * old memo to self — don’t look back — Helen Buckingham * miscommunication — no more with those who matter — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore * an own goal by miscommunication a defeat — Marta Chocilowska * she says all the right things — the pleasing click of this ballpoint — Mark Gilbert * blacked out groping for trip switch caught a nipple — Ashoka Weerakkody * shoveled snow trapped in a heap of apathy my point — Jennifer Hambrick * pins and needles we rewrite the failed proposal for no slip-ups — Marilyn Appl Walker * how could you! how could I what? you know — Shandon Land * foreign counterpart another email to decode the first — Madhuri Pillai * text replacement which one will manage the iPhone or i? — Kerstin Park * insurance payment to his deceased wife hurricane desk — Nicole Tilde * snippet of gossip the frustration of pronouns — Pat Davis * I said we check in 12 o’clock he calls — next noon — S. Radhamani * deep freeze — my words taken the wrong way — Martha Magenta * all glitters ain’t gold at the point of open admiration . . . — Adrian Bouter * what! i want tickets for the opera not for Oprah — Christine Eales * in between the lines the silence of the boss over the union strike — Angelo Ancheta * applications filed alphabetically openings chronlogical — Ron Scully * sent unchecked autocorrected text deer in the headlights — Karen Conrads Wibell * snow day — the deadline depends on who’s asking — Roberta Beary * misinterpretation from one to another with an interesting result — Tomislav Maretic * sleepless night . . . why are all emails written in Cyrillic? — Elisa Allo * sign language the perfect time to miss a point — Willie Bongcaron * arrows in red, orange, green and blue dry erase before I understood — Tricia Knoll * miscommunication braless today i was speechless — Paul Geiger * the migrant recruit cringes over work mates’ excitement at the flea market — Alegria Imperial * miscommunication — translation means cheating — Ana Drobot * sign language the perfect time to miss a point — Willie Bongcaron * arrows in red, orange, green and blue dry erase before I understood — Tricia Knoll * miscommunication — of just a case of misinterpretation? — Anna Maria Domburg-Sancristoforo * closed doors I faithfully arrive on a Japanese holiday — Carmen Sterba * but I thought he knew what I meant . . . the great divide — Karen Harvey * a cable line of misinformation — office rat — Adjei Agyei-Baah * and a final admonishment: From management: Departmental memos mustn’t be styled as haiku — Topher Dykes *
Next Week’s Theme: Office Rivalry
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 February 2016.