Friday, February 5, 2010

Schwartz Quits Sun, Doesn't Understand Haiku

Sun Microsystems (formerly known under the symbol SUNW, then later JAVA) was all but irrelevant by the time it was acquired by Oracle. Whether bought for its engineers or for its server support contracts, Sun was no longer the quality leader in hardware or software its CEO Johnathan Schwartz tried to portray when he pitched black-box server containers and argued Java was the way to deliver applications to the world, and pitched Java as the next smartphone platform.

However, Sun's focus on Microsoft's operating systems and its refusal to do serious Java work for some of its most significant alternatives in the server and desktop space caused Sun to blow its Java opportunity. And what, exactly, was that opportunity? To give away an open platform to anyone who wanted to use tools sold by anyone? How does a company make money like that? The lesson seems clear: one doesn't.

Today, Schwartz left Sun on a low note. Quitting by Twitter wasn't all that surprising for a CEO known for blogging, but his pretense at poetry was simply shameful. He claimed he wrote a haiku, but what he wrote was classic drivel: "haiku" selected as a form by someone without the sense to build a rhyme. This isn't haiku at all. "In traditional haiku there is always some reference to a season." The necessity of the season reference in real haiku is underscored by the kigo, the word or phrase specifically associated with a particular season, which occurs in haiku. The kigo anchors each haiku in a specific time and place so that experiencing the haiku allows one to experience a particular snaphot of nature.

In English, the lack of traditional kigo doesn't mean haiku have no seasonal reference, but that writers must stretch themselves to make haiku despite the lack of traditional seasonal anchors.

In college I met a group who thought it was extremely funny to write stomach-churning perversions with a 5-7-5 syllable count and call them "haiku" as if they were subtle art. I tried to explain what haiku was and they quickly dismissed it: writing would be hard if one had to satisfy the requirements of the art.

So I undertook to educate them. I wrote a haiku – a true haiku, with clear seasonal reference to anyone familiar with the mating habits of frogs – that turned everyone's stomach. I did exactly what they wanted done, but I wrote an actual haiku. I will not repeat it here because then I will never be able to seduce any of the chicks that visit. It's so gross, N won't let me recite it.[1]

Now, Johnathan Schwartz is an educated guy and surely possesses the brains to write a genuine haiku. He could have grounded it in winter, to highlight the death of his job or of Sun as an independent company; he could have grounded it in spring to emphasize his future opportunity; he could have linked it to the moon, which will appear to change completely but will before long look exactly the same again. There are so many ways one could write a haiku about leaving Sun that would have been real haiku that it's simply shameful to see Schwartz' drivel even treated with the name "haiku".

[1] N does, however, allow me to recite a haiku I wrote for her. In autumn in our part of the country, we get cicadas. Every few years, we get lots of cicadas. When they make their cicada-noise in the trees in such vast numbers, it's a swelling, roaring sound that penetrates any wall or window, overcomes gentle indoor music, and interferes with sleep. The sound is so deep at its lowest that it moves straight through earplugs. N was cursing, shaking her fist, and yelling the worst epithets she could muster while enraged to the point it was hard to make coherent sentences. After enough nights of the cicadas, you can get pretty fried and sleep-deprived. And N is a light sleeper. I suggested to her that her passion could be more fruitfully channeled, and she regarded me with doubt, but suggested I write a haiku on the topic. She really hated my haiku about the frogs, and she wanted revenge on the cicadas. She wasn't in the mood for love, so I appealed directly to her rage as I slowly spoke the words of a haiku made just for N:
chirping cicadas
thunder rolling from the skies
flaming cicadas
I don't pretend this is a masterpiece – the seasonal reference only gets you into autumn, and you have to imagine the blackened, smoking tree full of blazing cicadas – but it's a damn sight better than what Schwartz published. He should be ashamed.

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