This is a Poet in the Schools Workshop entitled, "Contemporary American and Japanese Haiku: Reading and Writing Haiku" Warrensburg-Latham Middle School, 6th grade English classes, (Warrensburg, IL) November 17, 19, and 24, 1998.
The primary purpose of this workshop is to introduce students to a visual thinking approach to writing, based on images and associations from their own memories. Haiku is a poetry of perceptions, so it has a powerful impact on the reader's memory. The natural result of reading haiku is to remember similar situations and feelings (and, of course, to write those memories down as new haiku).
The workshop begins with students closing their eyes and imagining the moment and feelings of various haiku by famous American haiku writers. For example, what do you imagine when you close your eyes to "see" this well-known haiku by James Tipton:
the sun coming up . . .
in the iron skillet
Images appeal to the senses. What colors do you see in this haiku? How did you know the skillet was black? What can you hear? Can you taste the eggs cooking in the skillet? Is it cold at dawn, and why do you feel the warmth of the stove or fire?
By imagining and discussing a few haiku, the students begin to understand that if you use images in your writing, you don't have to explain as much to the reader. The images contain rich details such as colors, touch, smells and sounds.
The second major realization about haiku is that each haiku is about a single instant in time, and that each haiku is written about a specific place. This is important because each haiku must establish a mood or atmosphere, a feeling that we associate with being in a certain place. To write haiku, the students were asked to imagine being as a specific location, then we gathered up possible images that might be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt at that location. We wrote haiku from these collected images.
Finally, students also want to know about the form of haiku. I ask them how many syllables in haiku, and one of them invariably gets it right--there are two syllables in the word haiku. I stress that haiku are usually made up of two fragments, two images that are placed next to each other. Haiku are not sentences. They are simply two images unified through a single instant in time and a particular place. Sentences are too complete and leave nothing to the imagination of the reader. Haiku are imagination "jump starts" inviting you to complete the scene that the writer begins.
We concluded the workshop with an editing session, so that students can see how to improve first attempts at writing haiku. Revising requires us to imagine the scene again, following the order of events presented in the images.
It is my wish that you might enjoy the haiku written by the sixth grade students at Warrensburg-Latham Middle School as much as they enjoyed reading them.
--Randy M. Brooks, Ph.D.
Hardy Distinguished Professor of English