2012 .haiku columns
.haiku column number 12 • 9-27-2012
by Gene Myers <email@example.com>
It's September! School is back in session
I recently interviewed poet and educator Penny Harter, who coauthored The Haiku Handbook with her husband, William J. Higginson, for my newspaper column. While that feature was geared for the general public, the following interview dives deeper into Harter’s thoughts on teaching haiku to kids.
"I imagine there's more than one reason teachers teach 5/7/5, one of them being, it's easy. How do you recommend teaching younger kids about haiku?" I asked.
"Well, I've found that teaching poetry, in general, tends to intimidate teachers, with the exception of those who love and have read a good deal of it. And teachers are often even more puzzled by how to evaluate poems written by their students. Using the formula of 5/7/5 is easy, yes, but it is also 'safe.' I've had teachers ask me, 'But if it's not three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables, how do we know it's a haiku?' And that's where their haiku education begins! One thing I do at that point is find some really good 5/7/5 poems—there are quite a few out there—and use those to demonstrate the other things a good haiku needs to do / have / be.
And for teaching students how to write haiku, I recommend doing as I outlined above—if they have The Haiku Handbook, they can follow my elementary lesson plan, or Bill's secondary plan."
It turns out that the short, little poems are great when it comes to teaching my 5-year-old son to read. Harter’s been teaching poetry in schools for years and she says that, "kids can write terrific haiku!"
"Why do you think this is?" I followed up. "Is there a certain aspect of it that they tend to do well?"
"I think especially elementary children, and even high school age students, are able to absorb by 'osmosis.' If one reads them a number and variety of really good haiku—both traditional (in translation) and contemporary—they 'get it' better than our talking about / explaining what a haiku is and is not. However, after they've heard many, one can ask them to talk about the poems: What do these poems do, and how do they do it? What kind of subjects? And when they also say 'descriptive words,' I do note the power of using images," she said.
In your experience, what is it that kids tend to like about haiku?
"They like the surprises in them—the leap across the gap—that juxtaposition of two images in startling ways. Also, they like the fact that haiku are short and make wonderful pictures for our minds or imaginations which is, of course, the job of well-chosen images. And they feel proud that they have written a poem. After I had 4th graders writing haiku and haibun, I had one boy skipping out of class saying , 'I love poetry.' That's the best reward of all," said Harter.
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• .haiku column number 12 • 9-27-2012 •