The following are study and discussion questions for How to Haiku, by Jim Kacian (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2006).
The Table of Contents from How to Haiku provides the structure for this set of three lesson plans for Higher Education. The questions are designed to facilitate class discussions and small group activities. We hope they inspire further thoughts, questions, and poems.
Lesson 1 offers questions and activities for the first four chapters from How to Haiku: Introduction, What is a Haiku?, Form, and Content.
Lesson 2 offers questions and activities for chapters five, six, and seven: Technique, Language, How to Write Haiku.
Lesson 3, this lesson, is about these chapters: A (Very) Brief History of Haiku, Related Forms, Performance, Haiku: The World’s Longest Poem, and the Glossary.
A (Very) Brief History of Haiku
1. Jim Kacian states that “. . . haiku is an evolved form, based on other and previously existing forms of Japanese poetry.” Briefly discuss the origins of haiku in Japan, and how haiku came to the West. Are some of the poets and scholars mentioned already familiar to you, from your general knowledge of poetry?
2. Discuss this quote by the author: “As we come to know the work of our contemporaries in Japan, we will find that they have moved far from the classical models of Basho and Buson — every bit as far, in fact, as we have in the west.”
3. Draw the attention of students to some of the haiku in this chapter, that were written by poets in recent decades. If you are able to refer to How to Haiku online, as you teach, you can read some poems aloud. Another idea is to write poems on the board or an easel. Students can deepen their appreciation of haiku, and also imagine how they might contribute to this history and literature.
4. Discuss some of the roles of journals, books, small presses, organizations, contests, and the internet, as they pertain to the awareness and growth of haiku. Mention the need for critical evaluation of poems and materials, along with the enjoyment of reading and poetry in general. In this context, teachers may also wish to reinforce that students read and follow guidelines carefully, when submitting their own work.
“Haiku, like any viable art, is shifting continuously, and what will emerge in the future can only be guessed at. But it is safe to say that it has become a viable, popular form of literature throughout the world, capable of being written, shared and appreciated by many cultures, in their different ways, in all parts of the world” (Jim Kacian).
1. To discuss the related forms, one teaching methods suggestion, depending upon the size of the group, is to assign the topics in the chapter to pairs or small groups. Then, during class time, the groups discuss their topics. Each group should appoint a spokesperson, who will then summarize their discussion in a large group discussion. The teacher leads the large group discussion, and then summarizes what was learned.
Allow for flexibility in what the small groups wish to highlight, as you can always add more information in the large group discussion, and continue the lesson at another time.
The topics are:
- Renga, Renku & Rengay
- Haiku & Other Arts
2. The teacher can also prepare a handout with a list of the topics, with space for students to take notes during the small and large group discussions. Include a reference for How to Haiku and The Haiku Foundation, to model appropriate credits for books and online sources.
3. Provide some class time for students to write in their notebooks about the lesson. They may wish to note general themes, write about one topic, try a rough draft of a poem, or jot a note to remember a question that was clarified for them in the discussions.
4. These topics may inspire additional individual and class projects. For example, if you have been teaching the three lessons from How to Haiku, students have been working together in pairs or small groups. Perhaps they would like to begin writing linked poetry. They may be ready to share some rough drafts of poems with their peers.
1. In addition to publication, what are some of the other ways haiku are shared?
2. Discuss considerations to keep in mind, in terms of communication with those who listen to the performance.
“Where the listener can enter more entirely into the moment of each poem, there will we find the greatest connection possible, the primary purpose of haiku” (Jim Kacian).
Haiku: The World’s Longest Poem
1. Discuss this quote by the author: “Haiku is, as we have seen, the world’s shortest poetic form. Properly considered, it is also the world’s longest poem.”
2. Ask the students to reflect on their understanding of haiku now. What are some of their questions? What new lessons could flow from these three lessons?
3. Provide some time for students to write in their notebooks; or perhaps the discussion is going well, and is the best way to conclude this lesson.
“The goal of every haiku is to see the world aright, see it whole, see it true. Every haiku contributes some small piece to this seeing” (Jim Kacian).
1. The glossary is both detailed and comprehensive. The definitions are there to help all understand the material, as they read How To Haiku. The glossary may also serve to help recall the material.
2. Discuss the role of learning vocabulary in a field of study. What new words and concepts are being learned? This conversation can be a part of all the lessons.
Kacian, Jim. How to Haiku (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2006).
For more haiku lesson plans, specific to age and grade levels, please visit The Haiku Foundation Education Resources. The work of several teachers, poets, and scholars is featured there.
We welcome your feedback and hope this lesson is useful.
Thank you to Jim Kacian for his work in publishing these three lessons.
— Ellen Grace Olinger