Posts Tagged ‘haiku’

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Argument Haiku

posted: 11.19.09 by Barclay Barrios

One of the teachers in our writing program stopped me in the hall to share his success using argument haiku in class.  I have to admit that it’s one of my favorite activities.  In the book I’ve paired it with a Kwame Anthony Appiah selection, but it’s a versatile tool.  I’ve used it with any number of readings and have used it in peer review exercises as well.

The actual activity is simple: take an argument from a paper or a reading and summarize it as a haiku—three lines of seven, then five, then seven syllables.

I’ve always found anything vaguely creative or arts-and-crafty tends to engage students.  In part I think it gets students excited because it breaks up the usual atmosphere of the writing classroom and in part I think it’s because students love doing something different and in part everyone loves writing haiku (especially bad ones).  But the secret is that it takes a lot of thinking to make this exercise happen and that’s why it is so useful.  Students need to identify the very core idea of an essay to break it into seventeen syllables.  And when used in peer review, authors quickly learn whether or not they’ve successfully expressed and supported their arguments.

We’re reading Thomas Friedman’s “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention” right now in our standard assignment sequence.  If I had to make a haiku for that essay I would try:

Global supply chains
Bring peace; terrorists use them
Too. Ai-yah!  Flat world!

Or maybe:

In the flat world works both ways:
Both for peace and war.

Are there any specific readings you would pair with this assignment?

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Emerging, Rhetorical Situation
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posted: 10.26.09 by archived

by Carolyn Lengel

Poems can be fun, and sometimes they can even be funny. For proof, look no further than the haiku collected in the SPAMku archive.

Most of the poems on the site are really senryu, which is parodic, rather than haiku, which includes a seasonal reference—both types, however, require the same five-syllable/seven-syllable/five-syllable form.

Curated by John Nagamichi Cho of MIT, the SPAMku archive grew from a collection that filled a small paperback (SPAMku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf, Harper Perennial, 1998) into a gelatinous, porky giant with more than twenty thousand contributions.

Although the SPAMku archive no longer accepts new verses, the poems contributed by volunteers and enthusiasts are a revelation. Everyone, it seems, loves a poetry challenge—and what could be more challenging than crafting a poetic ode to a prosaic canned meat?


Here are some favorites among the archive’s many, many delights:

Roseate pork slab,
How you quiver on my spork!
Radiant light, gelled.

—L. Sheahen

Zen Buddhist SPAM quest:
“What are the ingredients?”
What do you desire?

—Alex Dunne


Give your students the poetry challenge they crave. After a class discussion of the appeal of combining formal Japanese poetry with a not-very-dignified pork product, ask every student to write a SPAMku. (Vegetarian/vegan students can write Tofuku if they prefer.) Who knows—perhaps you’ll end up with a SPAMku archive of your own.



Carolyn Lengel is a senior editor for English at Bedford/St. Martin’s, where she works mainly  on handbooks. She is not a poet (although she did write a YouTube sonnet about Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan for the National Day on Writing), and she generally does not eat Spam, though she admires Spam both as a word and as an aesthetic object.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Popular Culture
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Argument Haiku

posted: 11.6.06 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the sections of the handbook on developing and revising a thesis and on wordiness or conciseness. Then have each student express her or his thesis as a haiku (5 syllables / 7 syllables / 5 syllables). For example:

Balinese cockfight
And American football.
Texts of culture both.

This is not an easy exercise, but it’s a great way to have students focus on the core of what they want their papers to say, in its most condensed form.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Grammar & Style, Revising, Thesis Statement
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