Sometimes it’s hard to love poetry. Some of it is really stuffy, some of it is really abstract and hard to follow, and some of it is so quaint it’s cringeworthy. But there’s one form that never lets us down—it’s precise, it’s snappy, and it sounds as contemporary as anything even as it’s a traditional form thousands of years old.
That’s right, we’re talking about haiku. Haiku, with its traditional Japanese form: the first line has 5 syllables, the second has 7, and the third has 5, for a total of 17 syllables. Before you know it, you’re done with one and on to the next.
You can drop all sorts of language from the world around you into haiku form, from the instructions on microwavable food to classified ads from the newspaper to the most important: your own life. Students are often somewhat turned off from writing poetry because it’s effeminate or stodgy or snooty. But by bringing in everything from song lyrics to shampoo instructions (lather, rinse, repeat / lather, rinse, repeat, lather / rinse, repeat, lather), the mundane takes on the sublime. And can be ridiculously funny. We have been surprised time and again teaching workshops—by high school weightlifters writing about pushing it to the point of failure in the gym; by after-school cooks giving us recipes on how to make the whole world better; by all the writers telling us about what’s outside the window, in their day. That’s the point of poetry at its best. That’s why we love it.
Ready to get your haiku on in your own classroom? The exercise has four haiku variations for your students to try: group haiku; speed haiku; an un-haiku haiku; and a haiku battle. Enjoy.