A thing worth doing, in my opinion, must open up to the rest of the world. What is the point of a medical discovery, for instance, if it is confined to the lab? Or a mathematical breakthrough, if its implications aren’t brought to bear on the eleven dimensions of our universe?
Haiku is no different. If the point of haiku is to follow a set of rules to generate a recognizable kind of product that fits comfortably within the realm of what it is known to be, then what we are doing is more akin to puzzle-solving than to poetry. And this is fine for those who seek entertainment or distraction. But for haiku to be worth doing, it must engage the rest of the world — it must seek to matter. If it succeeds, even occasionally, it becomes significant, a contribution. This is why I have remained engaged with it for four decades, and do not feel I have exhausted its resources.
For example, consider Lew Watts’s poem from our column on “Travel”:
slow descent — this sudden urge to share life stories
This assertion of a common humanity, triggered by a moment’s anxiety, unites us in a palpable way, and in so doing draws each of us closer to our own, and others’, stories. It is stories, more than work or geography or even blood, that bind us together.
In our year together we primarily limited our topics in this column to those incidents most closely associated with work and its environment, as was befitting this column’s initial impetus in a business newspaper. This remained our nominal focus, as this was the context in which we spent much of our conscious time, and many of its topics recurred for us, and occupied our energy and thought. But we also enlarged our outlook: specifically, we inquired how this context was changing, in what ways the newness of the outer world filtered into the ways we spent our time day to day. Some of these changes were gradual — how, for instance, did a fractious political atmosphere affect the way we did business, and with whom, and for what (and changing) rewards? Some seemed abrupt, no matter how slowly they were put into play — when robots replace humans in any endeavor, for instance, it will never seem gradual to those replaced.
Some of the other issues we took up involved us all: how can we achieve a balance between the demands of work and the needs of the rest of our lives? That led us to consider what the relationship between work and personal happiness might be — to what degree do we need work to define us, to satisfy us, and at what point does work exhaust us and deprive us of the resources to discover that happiness within ourselves? How do we manage the mindspace we allot to work? Does it consume us? Are we defined by it? Or, rather, is it something extraneous to us that we tolerate only because it permits us to survive?
What about the work environment? Does the time spent getting to and from work count as work? Should we be compensated for it? Should we be permitted to work from home? How does this change our relationship to the job? To our private space? And what about the tribe that assembles in the name of our mutual employment — are they colleagues? Adversaries? Tools? What about the old-timers — are they sources of wisdom, or just in the way and using up resources? And the newcomers — are they the font of new ideas and energy, or just replacement parts for the time when we inevitably falter? And more, what about a collective mindspace that isn’t shared by any of us, but is the product of some artificial intelligence — how will we respond when that becomes our normative experience?
Ultimately, all of this will devolve upon us — to our strength of character, our will, our vision. So our most enduring topic must remain the behavior of the species, in particular those in most immediate proximity — those with power over our actions, those over whom we have power, and ourselves. This is the true evergreen resource for our poetry, and for everything else we do. We fascinate ourselves, in large part because we are so unlike other animals, who are predictable, even when enigmatic. We, on the other hand, behave in ways that defy our own understanding, and once we think we have caught up, will defy again.
We considered, and will continue to consider, all this and more through haiku, which is certainly not the only tool at our disposal, but it is a capacious and flexible one, with its own challenges and resources, and enough to matter if we make it so. I have enjoyed your ponderings and your poetry as we have explored what we do with the bulk of our lives — work. Thank you, and keep working!
stealing a pencil for my little boy a haiku — Mark Gilbert * posting a haiku breaking the tedium of another working day — Rachel Sutcliffe * writing haiku — even the moon has a dayside — Ernesto P. Santiago * work history a collection of poems on multi colored post its — Michael Henry Lee * haiku eyes . . . the secret weapon of a writer — Willie Bongcaron * The “I don’t know (I don’t care )” — silence an intelligent answer it seems — Stefano Riondato * one theme poly vocal rhythms sound feel across the globe — S. Radhamani * big emotions in seventeen syllables — haiku at will — Angela Giordano * work stress but then the frog jumps in — Roberta Beary * introspection — one by one my thoughts go online — Arvinder Kaur * lightning on my horizon ionized ball point — Ashoka Weerakkody * catharsis . . . needs more time to write a fine haiku — Hifsa Ashraf * ginko walk along the way the world — Kerstin Park * thinking outside the cubicle haijin in the workplace — Pat Davis * we haiku here because all of us love haiku — Rosa Maria Di Salvatore * healing . . . a moment frozen in words and shared — Madhuri Pillai * bitten nails a fragment of sky peeling off bark — Betty Shropshire * black brush and white paper scent of this rose — Christine Eales * awaking the world out from daze and dream — haiku offering — Adjei Agyei-Baah * Sunday evening ritual submission the least I could do — Ron Scully * weekly challenge super motivated haiku team — Olivier Schopfer * working lunch — between bites a poem emerges — Peter Jastermsky * the understatement of the year: why haiku? — Adrian Bouter * illuminating the office gloom haiku fairy — Marietta McGregor * coffee break — looking inadvertently through the window — Tomislav Maretic * and closing on a personal note: I love haiku workshops and you, Jim — Marta Chocilowska Imagine that — our small gatherings of words inspiring love: what a wonderful world.
This is our last Haiku in the Workplace column. It will be replaced next week by a new column, Haiku Windows, hosted by Canadian poet Kathy Munro. Please give her the same wonderful support — and poetry! — that you have given us. We hope you’ve enjoyed putting your haiku to work. And we leave you with this offering on the same theme, by which you might consider your own growth as a poet. Keep working!
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 12 January 2016.