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Teacher Feature

The Education Committee of the Haiku Society of America is pleased to feature excellent haiku teachers.


Readers, you are haiku lovers. If you have found a way to share haiku with anyone--the homeless, your schoolchildren, your Sunday School Class--please write to me and let me know. I would like to share your innovations with our membership. Write me at susandelphinedelaney@airmail.net and together we can work up a summary for the newsletter and web site.

A sample, prepared by HSA member Robert Moyer and our newsletter editor, Johnye Strickland, appears below. Susan Delphine Delaney MD, MS

[At the December 5 quarterly meeting of the Haiku Society of America, held in Winston Salem, N.C., 8 fourth and fifth grade students from the Winston Salem Arts-Based Elementary School (A.B.E.S.) read haiku. This reading was part of a larger project done in collaboration with the North Carolina Haiku Society(NCHS), in which all third through fifth grade students will write haiku and submit them first to NCHS members for comment, and then to an editor who will make selections for a book. The NCHS sponsored the HNA 2007 Conference and most recently published a collection of North Carolina haiku poets, Beneath the Willow. A.B.E.S. is a charter school which uses arts-based, interdisciplinary instruction to implement its curriculum. Robert Moyer, a member of the NCHS, and theater artist in residence at A.B.E.S., is director of the project. Robert Moyer. Title supplied by Ed.-JS]

Looking for the Moment – Haiku, Theater, and Play Robert Moyer

As a teacher and director of children, I do not do theater with children; I use the work of Viola Spolin to reach through the practices and philosophy of theater to touch upon the creativity of the student. I have worked with the students involved in this project each year of their schooling. Through years of applying this process with them and others, I have discovered that the presence and attention to circumstantial detail which results in the theatrical moment addresses the haiku moment as well. I drew upon those discoveries in preparing this program, of which the December 5 reading is one part.

I also drew upon a number of excellent resources to prepare materials for the two workshops that led to the selected haiku. Primary among them was Patricia Donegan’s book Haiku (Tuttle Press), and the Haiku Society of America Resources for Teachers packet. Using these and my own experience in simple sensory work drawn from acting workshops, I prepared a two-page “playsheet” (I avoid the word “work” in the classroom as much as possible). Those two pages guided my first workshop.

We began, of course, with a brief definition of haiku: Japanese origin, 12-17 syllables, three lines, two parts, season word, all modified by the word “usually.” This qualification breaks down the rigid 5/7/5 template that is part of the North Carolina (and many others)Standard Course of Study (Who writes these things?)taught in the second grade. I also defined the haiku “moment” as something that we feel about nature or human nature that makes us smile, go “ahhh,” or just nod our heads. I also decided that we would only deal with moments which really happened, avoiding imaginary, i.e., school desk haiku. Of all the choices I made, this one seems to have had the most profound effect upon the work that emerged, making it most immediate and not the least precious.

Immediately following, I had the students read the 11 haiku I chose for demonstration. Seven of the choices were poems I have published or am working on; I felt more comfortable talking about poems which I could talk about from inception to inclusion in a journal; that identification proved to be a powerful engine for discussion; the poems ranged among sensory detail, surprise, juxtaposition, contrast, resonance, humor, and concrete.

The second sheet derived from a joint project that each grade and I had shared, what I will term a “curricular ginko.” I took a mask-making workshop with the fourth graders, and went on a field trip to the Reynolda House Art Museum with the fifth grade (the third grade had only one workshop prior to the reading, and were not included). This identification proved as seminal to the experience as the use of my own work in the presentation, bringing an immediacy to the presentation. The first section was a sensory checklist related to those experiences, including questions about hearing while looking, not seeing, touching, not touching, most memorable thing, favorite thing, etc. I followed that section with a selection of five haiku which I wrote based on that experience, placed in the left hand column. In the right-hand column, I turned those haiku into “prompts” which the students could complete with their own observations: line one and three from my haiku, with a blank line in the middle; my first line, followed by two blank lines; two blank lines followed by my third line; and, of course, three blank lines for their poem. Some children finished in the first workshop; some had already transcended the prompts by the end, and produced their own. I left the “playsheets” with them to work on if they had not finished.

In the second workshop, I simply brought in two pages of haiku: one a selection of 12 haiku by high school students taken from the HSA folder, and the other 27 haiku by North Carolina poets. I asked the students to circle the ones they understood, and put squares around the ones they liked. They then took turns reading their selections, giving us a chance to discuss what they saw, and how they saw it.

This time proved to be the most fertile time of writing for them. I did not make them focus on me while we talked, or even on those reading the haiku. I encouraged them if a poem made them think of an experience they had, to write that down; if they weren’t clear about the experience, they could just tell us about it. We went back and forth from reading and discussion, to people interrupting to read their haiku, to people asking how they could write about a subject.

Out of this marginal chaos (besides some excellent haiku) arose some seminal questions to guide their writing: where did it happen, what did you see, can you say what happened in a sentence, what words don’t you need in that sentence, and where could you break that sentence into two parts. In this atmosphere, everyone could contribute (much like our NCHS meetings) and the student was encouraged to write down what he thought was the best of those suggestions. The results were at the least satisfying, and at best stunning. Everyone wrote something and many wrote multiple examples (and are still writing, as they announce to me each week). Some of which were not included in the reading, but sprung from these sessions:

chatter chatter
sit down be quiet
we love you

Mrs. Howell Tekira Conrad, fourth grade

waterin’ mouf
momma cookin’

Sa’von Milledge, fifth grade

a tree with one leaf
so much wind
so little time

collaboration by Mason Brown and Jared Sink, fifth grade

The following poems are from the (HSA) reading. The prompts are obvious, but so are the strong results from them. I have been taken aback by the enthusiasm and application of the students; they sat for an hour and a half at a time in these workshops. On the other hand, the format I selected allowed me to be as fervently involved as well. No series of workshops has ever demonstrated more clearly the axiom that “discipline is involvement.” Perhaps the strongest lesson I learned in this process is that both the theatrical moment and the haiku moment for children is best addressed by presence and attention to circumstantial detail by the instructor.


inside the mask
it’s all blank

Lauren Ortiz, fourth grade

under my fingers
the creation begins
mask-making workshop

Chris Smoot, fourth grade

mask and I
share a face clay
and skin

Lauralaine Thiers, fourth grade

summer lake
falling, falling down,
splash diver gone

Elizabeth MacMillan

walking inside
the single sisters’ house
church bells ring

Haden Mendoza, fourth grade

teddy bear
into the washing machine

Rose Reese, fifth grade

soft lips
a beautiful smile
crooked teeth

Kaleel Benjamin, fifth grade

in the attic
a red dress all sparkly—
will it fit me?

Nova Mendoza, fifth grade



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