Aug 29

Review: Haiku U by David M. Bader

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , August 29th, 2011

by Kelly

by Kelly

It’s that time of year again — back to school.

For all those prospective English majors out there, here’s fun little book that could help rekindle the spirit of literature for the semesters yet to come.

Haiku U, by David M. Bader, is a pint-sized book with a 5-7-5 haiku on each page.

Each haiku is a 17-syllable synopsis of a title from the world’s literary cannon.

There is a haiku that recaps Jane Eyre, another that recaps The Iliad, and still another that recaps Robinson Crusoe.

I liked this one, which retells the story of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita:

Lecherous linguist —

he lays low and is laid low

after laying Lo.

This one recounts F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

Beauty to weep for —

coral, azure, apple green.

His custom-made shirts.

As I flipped through the pages of Haiku U, I quickly realized that I only liked a haiku if I had the appropriate background knowledge. In other words, if I hadn’t read the book in question (or had never heard of it), its haiku synopsis meant absolutely nothing to me.  In fact, I even started skipping haiku that belonged to book titles I didn’t know because I had already figured out that they would be lost on me.

So while many of Haiku U‘s poems were out of my reach, the idea of recapping an entire book in 17 syllables got me thinking. Could I sum up an entire novel in three short lines?

I could and I did. And because I was summarizing a novel in haiku, I thought it only appropriate that the novel I summarized have something to do with haiku. So here in my haiku summarizing Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors (follow the link for a review of the book detailing its haiku connection):

American nurse

wounded Japanese captive

cross cultural love

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Mar 11

Haiku Author Interview: Randy Howe

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , March 11th, 2010

by Kelly

by Kelly

Having worked as a classroom teacher myself, it’s no mystery I was drawn to Teacher Haiku, a book of seventeen syllable poems about the experience of being a teacher.

To learn more about the book, I contacted author Randy Howe with a series of questions about the intersection of teaching and haiku. Here’s what he had to say.

What do teaching and haiku have in common?

I think that the teacher and the haiku poet have a lot in common, actually. There are many reasons why each might not accomplish their goal. If the teacher (or poet) does not have a lot of faith in the audience, she or he might overstate what is better left understated.

The best lessons and poems leave the lion’s share of the work for the students/readers.

For example, a teacher, or a poet, introduces an idea and then asks the audience to contribute to that idea, either by connecting to a personal experience or by exploring it further.

The teacher, of course, checks for understanding in his or her students while the poetry reader is left to his or her own devices. The poet can reread his or her haiku, but will never really know what kind of an impact each poem makes on readers. Teachers have more of an idea, between testing scores and conversations with former students. I like the latter so much more than the former!

The topic of “haiku” seems to be something most students have come across at some point in their school career. Why do you think the topic of “haiku” is popular among teachers as part of a lesson plan?

I am a special education teacher and one part of my job is modifying assignments. The most common modification is chunking long-term projects and assignments into smaller parts. This makes the material much easier to digest and goes a long way to alleviating student stress.

Much the same, haiku are brief and more palpable than, let’s say, the epic Greek poems. They offer a glimpse of an emotion, situation, or scene. Year in and year out, I see teachers successfully introduce students to poetry with acrostic poems and haiku.

I teach high school now, but taught at the elementary level for five years and nothing made the kids happier than to write a haiku and then illustrate it. Plus, they like learning a little bit about Japan. For my high schoolers, nothing beats manga. Graphic novels have become an essential tool in teaching literacy to students who are struggling and I guess there’s just something intriguing about the Far East!

A lot of the haiku in this book rely on a certain insider’s knowledge, so to speak, of what goes on inside a classroom. They were obviously written from a teacher’s perspective. Should more teachers engage in writing haiku?

My immediate reaction is yes. And then on second thought, I say, “Double yes!”

I think that teachers should write about teaching, whether it’s in haiku or journal entries. There has to be some release from the day-to-day stress, and teachers should definitely reflect on their art.

When revising, I had to take a harder look at how I felt about what I was saying. Whereas the first draft of many of my haiku were harsher than I intended, later drafts better captured my feelings about things like new computers arriving without keyboards, parents who seemingly ignore the fact that their child is not my only student, and kids more interested in daydreaming than listening to me.

At the end of a hard day, these annoyances can seem like mountains. On a Saturday morning, while drinking coffee in my pajamas, they seem more like molehills which is, of course, exactly what they are. It’s good for teachers to write about what they are experiencing and then go back and re-examine their observations and feelings.

Then they can more accurately categorize what is happening to them in the classroom and the decisions they subsequently make. For those whose chosen format is haiku, the benefit is being forced to cut to the chafe. This is probably true for all professions, pushing aside the inessential to get to what really matters.

The haiku in this book pick up on so many tiny school-year details. Did you write these haiku over the course of the school year or did you write them in the “off season”?

I am able to do a lot of my professional writing over the summer vacation, but “Teacher Haiku” was written during the winter of 2008. I started messing around with the essential topics in early December and by the time the holiday vacation rolled around, I was ready to write.

Deciding on subject matter was a lot easier than composing the haiku! I had never written haiku before, but like most people I thought, “How hard could this be?” Well, it’s hard. I still reread many of them and see how they could be better. I also know that in all too many instances, I wrote sentences rather than joining fragments and painting pictures.

But I do feel I was successful in capturing the life of a teacher over the course of a school year. After sixteen years of teaching, I know what March feels like, even in December. It feels long!

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and not just the light of summer vacation. You see how your kids have grown since the beginning of the year. The hardest thing for me was sharing both discouragement and hope in just seventeen syllables.

Do you ever write haiku that aren’t about school?

I hadn’t written a haiku before “Teacher Haiku” and I haven’t written one since! I really love this book, though, and I loved writing it. Really, from that first step, when I was jotting down the essential topics, to the process of revising, it was a great experience for me. If I’m not learning, I’m not living. So, this new experience fit the bill.

There’s a guy who writes haiku about his beloved NY Mets, so maybe there is a market for sports haiku. I’ve also thought a nice hostess gift would be a collection of haiku about parties. I think that teaching is probably the most serious topic I would ever tap for poetry.

The most fun I had with this book was when I was writing in a humorous style. I just feel more comfortable in that zone. I’ve never been one to sit around the staff lounge, bitching and moaning about how awful everything is. I like my glass half full.

What are you working on now? Is there a book of “summer vacation haiku” in the works?

Ahhhhh, summer vacation. I think that a book about parenting and having fun with your kids might be in order. I can’t wait to hang out with my son and daughter again—all day, every day!

Recently, I finished revising “One Size Does Not Fit All,” a book I edited for Kaplan. It’s a collection of teacher stories, all with a focus on diversity in the classroom. It will be out in June and I can’t wait to see the response. It’s timely subject matter and the writing is really topnotch. Contributors include teachers from coast-to-coast, as well as Canada. There’s even a 9/11 piece from an American woman who was teaching in London at the time.

I am also looking forward to “1001 Smartest Things Teachers Ever Said,” which was just published by Globe Pequot Press. This is more of a gift book, so it should be on a lot of bookstore tables this spring.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing for my blog, and I’ve also been honing my skills as a Tweeter. And, of course, I’m counting the days till summer. Ahhhhh, summer vacation!

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Mar 01

Teacher Haiku by Randy Howe

Posted: under Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , March 1st, 2010

by Kelly

by Kelly

Once a teacher always a teacher.

While it’s true that several years have passed since I made my living in the classroom, I’ll never be able to shake certain teacher sensibilities. I still think in terms of “school years.” I still rip articles out of newspapers and magazines because I see their lesson plan potential. When I ran across a copy of Teacher Haiku at my local bookstore, of course I had to buy it.

Randy Howe, the book’s author, is a teacher himself, and the haiku in this little gift book are chronologically arranged according to the August-June calendar.The first haiku bemoans the loss of summer vacation while the last haiku celebrates the very last day of school.

In between are haiku about curriculum maps, staff meetings, report cards, standardized tests and kids who miss school to go on vacation.

Which brings up an important issue. These haiku are not meant for students. They were not designed to be part of a lesson plan about poetry, vocabulary or Japan.

Instead, these haiku are for teachers. This one asks a question I often wondered while teaching:

If I give feedback

and students don’t listen do

I still make a sound?

And this one speaks volumes of truth:

The tables have turned

Homework is more work for me

than it is for them

This haiku brought a smile to my face, along with many memories of my days as a middle school teacher:

I will never be

too harried or too old to

chaperone a dance

Ahhh. The school dance. Always an eye-opening and entertaining experience! Maybe I can find an upcoming one to crash . . .

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