If you want to see what I cover in “exploring poetic forms,” you can check out the blog entry from the first set of workshops, here:

When I got to the school today, the principal told me there was very low attendance today, so I’d probably be missing some kids. She was right — only six teens made it to the poetry workshop today, and one of those actually missed the entire discussion portion and came in just as we began writing.

As I was waiting for those few to trickle in, I greeted J., and gave him a book I’d found at the public library book sale last week after the workshop. It’s called the Illustrated Directory of the US Marine Corps, (http://www.amazon.com/Illustrated-Directory-United-States-Marine/dp/0760315566). He was thrilled. It turns out that another PLC student, T., is also planning on joining the Marines. As I learned last week, J. is already signed up and goes to Parris Island in July.

T. is training with her dad so she’ll be physically fit, but she hasn’t signed up yet. She said her uncle and his wife are both Marines and that “they make good money,” but that “it isn’t about the money.” She told the group it’s always been her dream to serve and she wants to prove to herself that she can do it. J. immediately cracked a huge grin and said, “For me, it’s about the money. I’m staying in 20 years, too, so I can retire!”

T.’s uncle is currently deployed in Iraq, and she said she wants to talk things over with him when he gets back, to make sure she’s ready, before she joins. As the other students came in and we got ready to begin, I found myself praying silently that T.’s uncle will stay safe and come home to talk to her, and that she and J. will succeed and be safe as well. They are both so young . . .

In the first workshops, I felt I’d tried to cover too much when I delved into poetic forms. So this time, I went over the basics of why poets think about form as well as substance, and then we talked about free verse and how it is not just a free for all, but is a form in which line breaks are the poet’s key formatic tool. I suggested that for a look at early free verse they should check out Walt Whitman, and we talked a bit about how he envisioned a new American poetry, less formal and more expansive than its European antecedents.

I then explained that their handouts included a guide to the villanelle form and three villanelles, and encouraged them to read them on their own, because I wasn’t going to go over them in the workshop. Instead, I told them, we’d turn to my passion – haiku and related forms.

This group was more receptive than the last to the notion that what they’d been told about haiku as children was likely not very accurate and I was about to set them straight. For more on how haiku is not what you learned in school, please see the blog entry at the link above. Mainly, please note that haiku is NOT defined as a poem with three lines and a certain number of syllables.

In order to convince the teens that I know what I am talking about, I showed them that I am one of seventeen poets featured in A New Resonance: Emerging Voices in English Language Haiku, v. 4, which you can find here, along with other fine haiku volumes: http://www.redmoonpress.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=21&osCsid=et6nbl94cbo0fdil383c5dmks4

We went over the Haiku Society of America’s definitions of haiku and its close relative senryu, which you can find here:

After discussing haiku and senryu, I read several examples of both forms from my own work, and we talked about the subtle difference. My children were glad that they each featured in my examples. I read from several journals which I recommend to anyone interested in these forms, including:

Modern Haiku http://www.modernhaiku.org/

bottle rockets http://www.geocities.com/bottlerockets_99/index.html

Simply Haiku http://simplyhaiku.com/

The Heron’s Nest http://www.theheronsnest.com/

Frogpond – the journal of the Haiku Society of America
http://www.hsa-haiku.org/ (the journal itself isn’t online)

As we discussed my poems I talked a bit about the writing life. I encouraged them to continue to write no matter what anyone told them about the practicality. No, you won’t make much money by writing poetry, but you can write no matter what else you do. We talked about rejections, and about believing in your work enough to keep looking at it critically, and sending it back out if you believe in it. Rejection, I told them, is a part of writing, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your work stinks. I was getting some blank looks.

L. piped up and said, “If it comes from your heart, how can it stink?” While there is certainly much to be said on the subject of good writing, and a piece needs to be well written, grammatically correct, and of the highest possible quality before it will be accepted for publication (at least in theory, that is how it should work), L. hit on an important truth, as I told the group.

T., who hasn’t contributed to the conversations as much as some of the other workshop participants, said, “That’s true. If there’s one thing you’ve taught me it’s that what comes from my heart is good.” Again, just when I was thinking that the topic at hand was boring these kids, they let me know how important our work together is.

I do think that L. and T. are right. If you write passionately, if you put your whole self into your work, it will never stink. It may not be polished and ready to go, you may need to revise, but at its heart, the work will be good. I plan to expand on this thought next week, when we talk about revising.

We went over the HSA definition of haibun and the traditions this form grew out of, and I read some of my haibun. At this point the group seemed anxious to write, so I wrapped up and suggested we try working collaboratively first. L. wrote two haiku before we even finished talking.

We tried Timothy Russell’s haiku writing exercise (found here: http://shachihoko.homestead.com/1exercise.html ). It’s a great exercise in observation, so I recommend it for anyone, not just haiku poets. To start, you write down the month or season and something about the day. Then, you spend a few minutes noticing and observing (outside is best), and jotting down descriptive phrases. Do this about ten times, and you’ll have some raw material for haiku

The group came up with:

First line:
cloudy morning

the breeze leaps from tree to tree
the flags snap furiously
a smiling face in the crowd
ships sail across yellow fabric (a boy’s shirt)

and we wrote a few haiku together:

cloudy morning
the breeze leaps
from tree to tree

cloudy morning
flags snapping furiously
in the breeze

cloudy morning
a smiling face
in the crowded hallway

Then they wrote on their own. All of them wrote, but only a couple of kids wanted to read what their poems:

T. wrote:

in dark morning
clouds float
slowly moving

L. wrote:

morning wind
sun rising into the sky
fog drifts away

black sky
you stroll through the night
waiting for a glimpse of light

We closed by talking about what we’ll do next week – wrap up the workshops with a session on revising poems.