Friday, March 16, 2012

haiku with a student

One of my most adorable students is with me every Thursday. Let's call her Chris. She's this itty-bitty wisp of a Korean girl, a quiet 5th- or 6th-grader who comes to our center for tutoring in math and reading/writing. Today, we worked a bit on some of the homework I had given her before, then turned our attention to an assignment that Chris had been given at school: write two haiku, one about nature and another about any subject you want. The English teacher was asking for a standard 5-7-5 syllabic structure, so we looked up* translations of Basho's famous frog haiku. In doing so, we stumbled upon this page, which features over thirty English versions of the original Japanese poem-- most of which aren't in the 5-7-5 structure-- and ends with commentary by the late Robert Aitken roshi (three of whose books I own, one or two more of which are on my Amazon Wish List).

After examining the various translations for a bit, we set out to write our own. Chris wrote two; I wrote seven. I didn't copy Chris's haiku, so I can't reprint them here. My first three were just random:

hunger gnawing me
unable to concentrate
gonna get some food

I hate tiny dogs
all their yipping annoys me
wish they'd disappear

(The above doesn't apply to Maqz, who gets special dispensation, but it's true that I normally find tiny dogs exceedingly annoying.)

most TV is dumb
few shows really interest me
wanna play Xbox

My final four haiku were all seasonal:

bears in burrows sleep
water pauses in its dance
earth awaiting spring

old and withered leaf
launches itself from the tree
joining its fellows

(I was probably thinking of that leaf-suicide scene in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.")

glass of lemonade
sweating on the front porch rail
blissful indolence

upon my windshield
telltale splatters indicate
bugs have come back out

Not my best haiku, to be sure. Still, Chris's favorite was the one about summer. As she was writing her own poems, I watched Chris dutifully counting out syllables, trying her best to shoehorn meaning into the prescribed structure. In the end, I think her two haiku were mostly successful. Overall, I was impressed with how quickly she caught on to making them.

We also took a look at Langston Hughes's powerful "A Dream Deferred." Chris and I discussed it for a few minutes, since she initially had no clue what "deferred" meant. I get the impression that she might like poetry a lot more than I did at her age (I still find most poetry-- including mine-- to be varying degrees of lame and/or pretentious, which is why I stick with doggerel). We'll see. She's also into short stories, and we're making our way through an anthology titled Heroes and Villains, which has served us YB tutors well when students need something to read and to write about.

*I use my smart phone at work all the time to Google information.


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