Haiku, an ancient Japanese form of writing poetry in three lines, has become one of my rediscovered loves. Since I took part in Natalie Goldberg’s “The Way of Writing” Workshop in March and April, and she instructed us in haiku writing, I have become enchanted anew. When I taught writing to middle school students, I included haiku as one of their poetry assignments, but I forgot this. As I remember now, I loved teaching haiku. I enforced the rule of syllable count for each line, which helped my students understand syllables. When writing one, they would tap out the syllables on their desks—and finally they understood syllables.
As I remembered my beloved poetry unit, what my students wrote blew me away! They loved the strict format of haiku, forcing them to focus. Also, it didn’t have to rhyme, and that freed them considerately.
This afternoon, I needed to see my students’ haikus again, so I just ran out to my storage shed, open up a box I have kept treasured “Teaching material,” in and rummage through certain assignments I’ve kept for decades. As I moved through the stack of papers, I held my breath. First, I found one folder named “Haikus.” Delicious short poems about middle school life in English and Spanish from my students—I taught Spanish so my students wrote haikus in both languages. I would love to share them with you, but I better not because of privacy issues, but once again I read haikus six-graders wrote in heartfelt three line poems about their lives. Still precious as ever.
Then I found my beloved poetry unit and read through the various poems I shared so any years ago, wanting to ignite the fire of poetry in them, and often I did! Because I guided them carefully with examples and then subjects to write about, many shared their deep hearts’ concerns and loves. I felt privileged to witness their poetry.
When I taught my poetry unit, I read them a large variety of poetry to whet their appetite. The haiku example I read them was one of Sonia Sanchez. I probably picked a Hispanic poet to connect my students to her because the majority were Hispanic.
Today I participated in a three-hour writing workshop with Natalie, entitled “Write Your Pandemic Story—Three Lines at a Time,”—that’s what stirred up my reminiscing about my students and haiku writing. We delved in deeper with her, giving more instructions on writing haiku. She read premiere haikus from the ancient Japanese greats, then also haiku from more modern Japanese poets. After listening to these great poets, we wrote our own, divided up into breakout rooms of five and read some we just wrote. What a rewarding experience. We repeated going to the breakout room a second time after another teaching from Natalie and read again after writing more.
Traditionally haiku is written in three lines: five syllables for the first line, seven syllables for the second and five for the third. Natalie was first introduced to haiku by Allen Ginsberg in 1976 at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He discouraged his students in adhering to the syllable count, because we have words in English that have less importance, like articles of speech (the, an, that).
“The only real measure of a haiku, Allen told us that one hot July afternoon, ‘is upon hearing one, your mind experiences a small sensation of space’ — he paused; I leaned in, breathless — ‘which is nothing less than God.'”Natalie Goldberg, Three Simple Lines: A Writer’s Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku (2021): 4.
In Allen’s introduction, he identified four famous haiku men poets: Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki. In her book, Natalie added a woman, Chiyo-ni.
For more information, here’s a website that talks about the four men poets: Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki: https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-haiku-poems.html
Here’s one about Chiyo-ni: http://www.earlywomenmasters.net/chiyo/
So, what’s the attraction? For me it’s the brevity, the crispness, the focus. It’s like taking a picture of something valuable in words then ending with an emotion. Also, I realized as I wondered back to my teaching days how much I loved haiku then and that love spurred me on to take this workshop today.
Since my workshop in March and April with Natalie, I’ve tried my hand at writing haiku. Let me know what you think.
Life so wonderful So deeply charismatic A jingle daily! One foot here on earth Gather deceived loved one near One foot there with you!
I hate politics Republicans, Democrats Families divided! Eight years ago, Mom Left here, entered a new sphere Relief in her eyes.
Mom’s unique fragrance Covered my heart yesterday Thanks for the visit.
Spring snowstorm blankets The piñon trees in white shroud Green, white and blue skies. Can square dance survive? We love to dance and connect Celebrate the beat!
Words hurt; words can heal Like a bomb or like a salve. Today I chose health.
Simple, direct! Haiku poetry began in the thirteenth century and has gained momentum recently. I wrote many of these poems during my daily walks—the words, the themes and imagines came. I beat out the rhythm of the syllables with my fingers like my students did so many years ago, ran home and jotted them down before I forgot them.
How about you? Three simple lines to describe something specific in your world! If you craft one, share it with me. I’d love to know I’m still a teacher of haiku! To make a comment and/or share your haiku, scroll down below the following information.
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