Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Haiku vs. Haiku... FIGHT!

Teacher examples of Dueling Haiku.
Yesterday in English Class, with AP Language and Composition exams in the rear view window and the upcoming English Regents 11 not posing much of a concern, I began working with my eleventh graders on first analysing, and then writing haiku. While students have been "taught" how to write haiku since kindergarten, I annually like to revisit the from with them, in hopes of sharing some new background information, or at least eliciting from them a poem or two that does not consist solely of seventeen syllables thoughtlessly puked out on a paper ten minutes prior to class.

Writing good haiku takes time. This is what I tell students who insist on the ease with which this particular form is mastered. The challenge here is to impress upon students that simply stringing together enough syllables in a familiar structure (5-7-5) does not mean one is "good" at writing them. Today in class we first started by reading four different haiku by different authors, including Basho.

It is important to remind students that the while the form they (and I) have been taught since childhood is "haiku," it is not purely haiku in the Eastern sense, but more of a Westernized "traditional" Haiku form. The basic rules are well-know: haiku are comprised of 17 syllables, arranged in 3 unrhymed lines of 5-7-5 syllables and the content should evoke or link to the natural world.

In order to mix things up slightly, rather than asking students to simply generate two haiku, I assigned them to develop two Dueling Haiku. A form I found online a number of years ago, a single Dueling Haiku consists of a pair of individual haiku that each focus or express forces, animals or seasons which can be seen as being in opposition to one another.

The use of the word "opposition" in the instructions can be confusing for students as there is no actual "conflict" or coordination between the two poems, only the potential for the reader to sense the opposing/contradictory/differing nature of the two forces, animals or moments. As I explain to the students, while there is no "shared DNA" between the two, there should exist an implied connection that is discernible to the reader. While the two poems can stand alone as well-crafted haiku, when paired together they offer a sens of opposition or express the dual nature of a subject.

At the top of this post are two examples of Dueling Haiku that I wrote and ultimately shared with the class.  Each time I deliver this lesson and assign the corresponding task, results vary. The majority of students can generate three unrhymed lines in a 5-7-5 syllable structure. Not all can write haiku that give pause for reflection on the image.  Often times the resulting poems are quite impressive, and my hopes are that this some images will pop with evocative language this year, too.

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