52 SONGS

...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Assignment "Zero": Haiku

The first poetry assignment of the semester, hackneyed though it may be, is to have students write haiku. We look at samples in English, we talk about the form's history and variations, and, as is often the case, I participate in the assignment by making some of my own. Here's a just-before-class job:

     Last day of summer:
 The cove is full of flesh, exposed
     To sun and salt air.

I wrote this on the board, and I explained how a small change in a poem can have a large effect:

     Last day of summer:
 The cove is full of flesh, offered
     To sun and salt air.

"Offered" sounds less voyeuristic to my ear than "exposed," but "offered" also suggests interpretation. Since "[haiku] do not present subjective interpretations such as how you feel about these things," I tried again:

      Last day of summer:
 The cove is full of flesh, disclosed
     To sun and salt air.

Next, we changed the line order:

     The cove is full of
Flesh, disclosed to sun and salt air--
     Last day of summer.

The students and I agreed this is better, even if the lineation gets mucked up. Having "Last day of summer" first, followed by a colon, is too definitional, declarative of what the last day of summer is, for everyone. The point of the poem is the image; the fact that it happens on the last day of summer is incidental, even as the nod toward the time of year is essential to haiku. Still, a cove full of flesh, especially as I re-type it in this post, feels unintentionally (and comically) gruesome. Maybe something less pleased with itself:

     In the cove, swimmers
Bathe under sun and salt air--
     Last day of summer. 

Too many S's. How about this:

     In the cove, swimmers
Bathe under sun and salt air--
     Last day of July.

I like the contrast in sound of the last word, though the poem's meaning (of course) is changed. This could go on and on.  

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