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Transplanting the Haiku

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Although the haiku first flowered in Japan and retains its distinctively Japanese character, it has proved so adaptable that it flourishes in many parts of the world. With only three lines of straightforward words, it is accessible to all kinds of people, yet its depth of meaning satisfies the most sophisticated. I have taught the haiku to college students in classes ranging from developmental English to world literature, as well as to middle school students in a summer enrichment program. With a little instruction, most were able to produce acceptable haiku.

The purpose of this article is to share methods for teaching effective haiku writing. For advanced levels, it includes strategies for teaching students to evaluate haiku translations, to produce their own translations, and to contrast haiku with Western poetry by converting Western poems into haiku.

The experience of writing haiku is valuable to students for a variety of reasons: It exposes them to the aesthetics of another culture; they become more observant of the world around them and more attentive to word choices; and they experience the satisfaction of producing poetry. However, some may have already been taught about haiku by teachers who have only a superficial understanding of it themselves. It may be necessary to clear up several common misconceptions.