High school, haiku, tweet tweet

Devaney, Ashbery, Basho

A while back, in 2009, I tweeted the following:

A poet in a serious discussion yesterday used the example of 140 characters as a constraint-based poetics. He was talking about haiku, natch

The tweet in itself was precisely 140 characters. Here in the relatively spacious J2 textbox, though, it seems so bare, so minimal. In the twitter format I use (the application called “Tweetie”) the full 140-character update fills the space and makes me feel downright loquacious. These new media really are our messages. You'd think I'd have discovered this before now.

By the way, the poet mentioned in the tweet above was Tom Devaney. At the Writers House at the time, I hosted eleven eleventh graders who were currently in a one-trimester poetry class. We had a 2.5-hour session. I decided to bring in six Philadelphia poets, of all sorts, to present to them each in 20 minutes a single short poem. The chosen poem was to be a way for the students to learn about the poet making the presentation.

Tom cheated a bit, bringing in not one poem but three. First, two translations of the Basho favorite (the old pond, frog jumps in, kerplunk) and then John Ashbery's haiku from A Wave.

It worked. After discussing the Basho, they were ready to take on Ashbery and spoke remarkably well and freely about the Ashberyian line as if it were as explicatable as a haiku. Generic familiarity. I don't know how accidentally Tom fell into this pedagogical move, but it worked. Below is a portion of Ashbery's “Haiku.” The line that encouraged the best discussion, a favorite of the students:

              And it is a dream sailing in a dark, unprotected cove.

It is the most haiku-like (static and imagistic yet open and resisting sense) and yet just the sort of line that causes Ashbery‘s readers (outside the haiku context) to scratch their heads. Nice going, Tom!

Later we created a PennSound page with links to audio and video of each 20-minute session.