The first time I taught
Bashō, I limped home, bloody-
toed, haunted by crows.
The first class period we discussed Basho’s “The Old Pond,” as well as a few of Kerouac’s “American Haiku.”
Subsequently, I assigned the students to write three haiku of their own, bring them to our next class, and read them aloud to their classmates. Their haiku could focus on any topic as long as they followed the formal requirements I had emphasized.
The next class period we met and enjoyed the recitations. We even snapped our fingers, ironically. Many of the students seemed to enjoy the experience, while others were nervous to share publicly, but read anyway. Following immediately upon the heels of “open mic,” I showed the students a plastic bucket of sidewalk chalk and announced they would now be sharing their poems with the world (i.e. the rest of campus). We exited the building, and the students wrote their poems on the sidewalk crisscrossing the quad in front of the English building.
- I would have assigned the students to write a reflection on the rhetorical elements involved in both presentations of their poetry. Here are some of the elements such reflections might have focused on.
- Class: Audience and author are present and known to each other. The context is an English classroom with a small community of students participating in the same event. Some of them are even friends. The presentation of the poem is orally dynamic and unique to the moment it is performed. It is also transitory because as soon as the words are delivered, they strike the ear and dissipate.
- Sidewalk: Audience is unknown or imagined. The author retains anonymity from the audience. The poem appears on the sidewalk (a public space) with other poems AND sidewalk chalk event announcements AND sidewalk chalk love/friendship notes (“Dude, you’re so COOL!” and “I ♥ YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!!!”) written by students not in our class. The poem is visually dynamic and unique because it is a) handwritten and b) appears in multiple colors. It, too, is transitory because the poem will be scuffed and brutalized by passing shoes and likely will not last beyond the next rainstorm. Note: My second class that day performed the same activity, but their rhetorical situation differed even from that of my first class because my second class wrote their haiku on the sidewalk in front of the doors of the Engineering building (which is not generally associated with poetry), rather than the English building.
- I would have given students more freedom to explore with the form. Most people, including me, know less than they think they do about what actually constitutes a haiku. Hint: It’s more than 5-7-5. I believe students benefit from form as a space for boundary-pushing and creativity.
- I would have put socks on that morning. I had awakened that morning a little later than usual and in my hurry decided to forgo wearing socks. Big mistake. After my second class, I walked home barefoot because I did not want my shoes to smell even worse than they already did. Second big mistake. I wrecked my big toe on a lip of sidewalk near my apartment. I recall a pair of crows following me home as I left a trail of wet, red prints all the way to my front door.