Thursday, April 03, 2014

Haiku v. Haiku: Fight 2014!

With National Poetry Month kicking off this week, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to lay the groundwork for some haiku writing in my Advanced Placement Language and Composition courses. In order to mix things up slightly, rather than requiring that students simply generate two haiku, I assigned them to develop a Dueling Haiku. With Spring Break and AP exam administration on the horizon, what better time to still ourselves in the interest of crafting haiku? Our initiating activity was intended to covertly inspire students to collect the clay that would ultimately be shaped into their dueling haiku.

Initial journaling prompt.
Past experience has shown me that the "write about Nature, because we're going to write haiku" approach is lacking, I first shared a prompt (posted to the right) that would--if explained correctly--result in two 50-70 word free-writes about naturally occurring, potentially oppositional, animals or elements. The prompt does not overtly suggest that the final outcome will be two haiku (which when placed side-by-side are dueling), but rather nudges students to focus their thinking and writing on a specific subject as well as its opposite number. It was helpful to share some examples of potential topics that while initially too broad, could be refined in such a manner as to yield appropriate fodder for the poetic grist.

While students have been shown how to write haiku since elementary school, I annually like to revisit the form with them. The hope in doing this is to reveal some new background information, or to at least elicit 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.

Some students insist that the haiku is an "easy" poetic form to master. My response to these shows of hubris is that "Writing crappy haiku is as easy as 5-7-5." Crafting good haiku takes time. 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. I find it helpful 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.

The modified evaluative tool.
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.

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 some images will pop with evocative language this year, too.

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