College Haiku: A New Perspective
Prior to taking this course, I had very little knowledge about haiku and the many traditions and practices that surround it. Like many before me, I signed up for the course rather blindly, hoping that I would get to experience and learn something new. What I discovered after the first couple weeks, was a fascinating and beautiful art. I was able to experience brief snapshots of a moment through the words of others. I was able to write about my own experiences and find validation among my peers. Beyond my own experiences, I discovered a community that I did not know existed. This group of people was united by a fascination with this inspiring art, and I was fascinated by them. When I learned that Millikin is home to an exciting part of this community, I was even more fascinated. One of the things I love most about haiku is the way it brings all these people together to create a sort of family. I love the emphasis on sharing your words, and inviting others to experience with you. When we received the assignment to write an essay introducing a contemporary topic, author, or approach to haiku readers, this sense of community is the first thing I thought of.
It was very exciting to me to hear about all of the Millikin students that have had their haiku published. The little community that exists here is exciting, so I decided they would be a perfect subject for this essay. I wanted to write about college students (more specifically Millikin students) and their contributions to the haiku community. After making this decision, I began thinking about what makes haiku by college students different then haiku by older authors. To get an idea of the differences, I read the Millikin University Haiku Anthology printed by Bronze Man Books in Decatur, IL in 2008 and edited by Randy Brooks, Emily Evans, Rick Bearce, and Melanie McLay. I also read Tea’s Aftertaste, a chapbook of haiku by Aubrie Cox that was published by Bronze Man Books in Decatur, IL in 2011. Both of these books helped me get a good sense of what makes haiku by college students distinctive and recognizable.
I found that haiku by college students seem to ooze personality. In many of the haiku I read, I could imagine the kind of person the author was by the way they wrote their haiku. When students come to college, they experience many changes and new experiences. For this reason, much of the haiku that college students write seemed to involve a change of some sort. There also seems to be a certain amount of vitality and passion in their haiku. Many college students are learning and experiencing new things on their own for the first time, so their haiku have a certain energy that I believe comes with being young and having so many new experiences at once. All of these things seem to characterize haiku written by college students.
The first of these topics that I wish to address is change. In the Millikin University Haiku Anthology, there were many haiku about things changing from the way they used to be. The theme of change manifests itself in different ways depending on the haiku, but these particular ones illustrate different elements of change that are present in haiku by college students.
away from home
snowflakes on my coat
Concepion Cruz, MUHA, 50
This haiku talks about an obvious change: the change in setting. For many students, college is the first time they have been away from home for an extended period of time. This haiku demonstrates that perfectly. It opens by stating that this is their first winter away from home, which immediately identifies the author as someone potentially in college. I think this haiku also has a lot of emotion in it. The spacing in the first two lines creates dramatic pauses that I believe add a sense of contemplation, and melancholy. I think the snowflakes on the coat add to this image. When it snows everything seems more hushed and soft. This atmosphere stimulates reflection, perhaps about the changes that have happened since this person moved to school. I think the snowflakes can represent other things too. I think it could be the first time they have seen snow, or the first time away from a family tradition that involved the first snowfall. Whatever it may be, the change in this haiku is evident, and it fits very well into the theme of change in a college student’s life.
spring break’s end
I catch myself calling
Jessica May, MUHA, 78
This haiku represents a change in the way you think about something. The change from thinking of your family house as your home to thinking of your college campus as your home is a common change among many college students. I like this particular haiku, because the break between the words campus and home perpetuates the surprise that is set up in the first two lines. The author didn’t realize that she now considers campus her home. I believe this shift happens to most college students, especially by the time spring comes.
I tread lightly
through my childhood
Aubrie Cox, TA, 37
This change is not as obvious and does not immediately reveal itself as a haiku written by a college student. The bridge in the haiku is currently overgrown, but it could have been well maintained at some point in the author’s life. As she walks across the bridge, the author imagines her childhood and the times she spent in that spot previously. Now, the bridge is overgrown and looks different, but it still reminds her of her past. College is a time of moving forward, which could cause some to reflect on where they came from. In order to know where we are going, it is often necessary to know where we came from. This idea is something that comes up frequently in haiku written by college students.
Another element that seems to be common in the haiku of college students is underlying passion and energy. The following haiku represent these elements well.
one name carved
deeper than the rest
Aubrie Cox, TA, 43
This haiku displays that passion in a subtle way. It takes the very stereotypical act of carving someone’s name into a desk and puts a little extra feeling in it. If one name is scratched deeper, it means that person took more time because they wanted that name to be the most important. This kind of extra effort demonstrates the kind of passion that many people in college have. Scratching someone’s name deeper than the rest seems like a small thing that doesn’t really matter, but for this person, it is a way of showing they care. Small, seemingly trivial gestures like this often appear in haiku by college students.
after the argument
Angie Hawk, 23
This haiku displays a stronger kind of passion. Heat lightning is a powerful force of nature that lights up the sky. If a person’s eyes resemble heat lightning after an argument, they must have been very angry and passionate about what they were arguing about. This smoldering passion is something that represents the energy evident in haiku by college authors in particular.
late summer rain
of frat boys in the mud
April M. (Romberger) Brislen, 27
I picked this haiku because I felt it represented the energy and vitality that comes across in the work of many college students. Students in college often do crazy or silly things because they want to fully experience life. They run out in the rain and play in the mud, because they are young and alive. This haiku is effective because it compares the frat boys to wolves. This comparison brings to mind college boys engaging in a wild energetic tussle in the mud like a pack of wolves might. The energy that comes through this haiku is an excellent example of the liveliness that shows up often in haiku written by college students.
This particular haiku also displayed a seasonal word, like many of the traditional Japanese haiku. In Love Haiku by Masajo Suzuki, translated by Lee Gurga and Emiko Miyashita, and published by Brooks Books in 2000, there is a haiku that talks about rain, but from a different perspective.
on the dressing table
the ring removed from my finger—
cherry blossom rain
Masajo Suzuki, LH, 22
This haiku deals with rain in a completely different way and has a very different authorial voice. The topic discussed in this haiku is much more serious. Suzuki refers to the fact that she is no longer married, a fact that is much more serious that the frat boys rolling in the mud. This is just a minor example of the way the haiku of college students contrasts haiku of older writers. The subject matter here is very different, with the haiku by the college student being much more playful and light, and the one by Suzuki being much more serious. The rain in Suzuki’s haiku also has more symbolic value than the rain in Brislin’s haiku. Cherry blossom rain comes in the spring, so it represents the change of the season and perhaps a new start away from the problems of her previous marriage. In Brislin’s haiku, the rain’s real purpose is to create the mud for the boys to play in. It does not seem to have any heavily symbolic meaning like the cherry blossom rain. From this comparison, we see the difference in attitude, subject matter, and authorial voice that is present between haiku by college students and those by older Japanese masters.
The final main theme that exists in haiku written by college students is trying new things. Trying new things in college often means experimenting with alcohol. There were many haiku in the Millikin University Haiku Anthology that discussed experiences with alcohol. The following two haiku both fall into this category. They both deal with poor decisions related to alcohol. This kind of experimentation is part of the college experience for many people, and thus is often the subject of haiku for college students.
Mardi Gras beads
indent my face
Bill Flowers, MUHA, 33
too much tequila
we broke up
Jennifer Marie van Natta, MUHA, 75
The first haiku paints a vivid picture of a person waking up with indents on their face from beads that they slept on. I can just imagine them drooling with their mouth wide open, then suddenly waking up to find indents in their face. This adds an element of humor to the situation, because it is easy to imagine how ridiculous someone would look with indents in their face. I feel that this haiku has a strong voice and attitude that comes from its abruptness. It does not use any nonsense words, but gets right to the point and thus comes across as comical. The second haiku has a similar effect. The word choice in the second haiku highlights the comedy in the situation. Instead of saying “we made a horrible mistake” or something much more graphic, the haiku simply states that they forgot they broke up. A great deal can be implied from this, which makes it a great haiku. The implications are also what make it humorous. This wild experimentation and humorous outlook characterize many of the haiku I came across in the anthology.
In Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem, edited by Tazuo Yamaguchi and Randy Brooks, published by Brooks Books in 2008, there is a poem by Gary Gay that also deals with a serious subject in a lighter way.
for those of us not sure
the rain starts
Gary Gay, HTAOTSP, 34
There is playfulness in this haiku that comes from the irony of the subject matter. It is funny that it starts raining on the people who are not sure of the baptism. It seems to be nature’s way of saying “you need to be baptized.” The wording of the haiku also contributes to this humor. Gay makes it sound like this was an option that was offered all along “for those of us not sure.” This humor when dealing with a fairly serious subject matter is something I observed in many of the haiku by college students including the one by Jennifer Marie van Natta. She deals with her serious subject in a humorous way just like Gay does. The subject of the haiku are very different which makes it more obvious which one was written by a college student and which one was written by the older haiku writer. Often times the subject matter can make a haiku stand out as something that is by someone younger.
Although many of the haiku have energy and excitement in them, some do not show this outwardly. Some deal with everyday life at college. These two haiku paint a picture of a student bored in class. Both have an element of curiosity and imagination that give them a youthful feeling.
class on the quad
my eyes drift
to the afternoon moon
Aubrie Cox, TA, 20
stuck in class
hits the window
Brock Peoples, 40
The first haiku captures the reader’s imagination with “the afternoon moon.” The line breaks in this haiku really help to capture the moment. The author sets the scene with the first line, then breaks of the second line after the word drifts, which allows the reader to imagine their eyes drifting. In the second haiku, the author made it very easy to relate it to. He sets the scene by using the word stuck. We know that he feels trapped inside his classroom when all he wants to do is be outside. Then, the Frisbee comes and gives him a clear idea of exactly what he is missing. Both of these haiku capture a youthfulness and imagination that is present in many of the poems written by college authors.
In the introduction to the Millikin University Haiku Anthology Emily Evans said that this anthology is unique because it is “young voices talking about modern things in a traditional form.” I believe that this is what makes the contributions of college writers so unique. There were a couple themes that surfaced very often in this anthology, but the most interesting thing about this anthology is truly that it is young people talking about their own lives. Some of the subject matter may be similar to things that adults have written, but many of their experiences are unique and had not been shared in haiku form before. Older writers write with a wisdom that comes from experience. The younger college writers bring elements of imagination and spontaneity and liveliness that older writers do not always capture.
Brooks, Randy M., Emily Evans, Rick Bearce, and Melanie McLay. Millikin University Haiku Anthology. Decatur, IL: Bronze Man, 2008. Print.
Cox, Aubrie. Tea's Aftertaste. Decatur, IL: Bronze Man, 2011. Print.
Suzuki, Masajo, Lee Gurga, and Emiko Miyashita. Love Haiku. Decatur, IL: Brooks, 2000. Print.
Yamaguchi, Tazuo, Randy Brooks, and Tazuo Yamaguchi. Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem. Decatur, IL: Brooks, 2008. Print.