A Hundred Gourds 3:2 March 2014

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Haiku Guy: The Guy, the Books, and the Classroom

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 |

Haiku Guy for the College Classroom

For the last several years, Haiku Guy has been used in the Millikin Global Haiku Traditions course I mentioned at the beginning. While I was a teaching assistant for the course, Dr. Brooks and I developed a short unit around the haiku novel as a transition from discussing English-language haiku to Japanese haiku. The first half the course generally focuses more strongly on English-language collections—Peggy Lyles’s To Hear the Rain, Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, sometimes The Millikin University Haiku Anthology. In the second half of the semester, students are exposed to Japanese haiku and history, starting with Ueda’s Matsuo Basho. Considering Haiku Guy dabbles in both worlds, it provides students with a taste of what’s to come while not abandoning what they’ve already learned and become familiar with in haiku.

Over a week, students read the novel and put “Stop, Look, and Listen,” an exercise in mindfulness and attentiveness, into practice. Additionally, students use the different approaches to haiku within the book provided by Buck-Teeth’s friends Kuro and Mido. Kuro, the Black Poet, believes the more depressing a poem is, the better. After all, we must face the fact we are living in nothing more than a dream. Meanwhile Mido, the Green Poet, argues that being “out of your mind” is where it’s at—enjoy life! Party! Drink! Students write haiku following both poets’ advice and consider where their own personal aesthetics fall on the spectrum between the two. This activity has become a precursor to exploring aesthetics such as wabi-sabi, karumi, and yugen when discussing Basho.

For the record, students are also challenged to attempt a haiku in the style of Shiro, the White Poet, who never says or writes anything. The student performances are astounding, especially when there are theater majors in the class.

After reading the novel, the students write their own haiku short stories, generally about overcoming a personal or creative struggle. If the story is not about haiku, then they have to consider how the haiku fit within the story and what the poems are contributing. In writing the stories, students have to consider link and shift, which helps for when they study and begin writing renku. In the past Lanoue has even been a judge for the class, selecting his favorite stories and offering a short commentary.

Haiku Guy and Laughing Buddha for 7-12th Grade

As Lanoue suggested, I asked Tom Painting for details on his use of haiku novels in the junior high and high school classrooms. In response to my query he noted that, “Haiku Guy is not only a clever bit of fiction, but also a personal narrative and instructional guide to haiku.” From the materials and lessons he shared with me, it’s clear that he acknowledges and uses all three of these elements of the haiku novels in his lessons.

Painting goes into the world of the novels in-depth with his students, asking them to answer questions about the characters, the narrator, and purpose of the text. Additionally, students research and create an oral or visual presentation on cultural elements that appear in the book such as the Tokugawa Shogunate, bunraku (theatre), ronin, and Buddhism in Japan. These activities provide students with an opportunity to engage with the text for more than how to write haiku. Haiku Guy and Laughing Buddha have dynamic characters and a narrative style that can be great introductions to looking at symbolism behind characters and how truth and fiction often collide. Not to mention the narrator occasionally discusses what he’s writing and why, which provides insight into narrative structure and the writing process.

But that’s not to say Painting doesn’t also use the novels to teach haiku. Similarly to the Global Haiku class, students are assigned writing practices while reading. For Haiku Guy in particular some exercises include taking a haiku walk, writing haiku, using kigo, or writing haiku about New Year’s, the moon, and love. To complement and reinforce the lessons within the books, Painting has students read plenty of haiku. In the 97-slide powerpoint he uses, a few slides at a time, the class also addresses the many elements of haiku aesthetically, thematically, and structurally as poetry and as a genre.


An example from Painting's powerpoint.

David Lanoue’s haiku novels include Haiku Guy, Laughing Buddha, Haiku Wars, Frog Poet, and Dewdrop World. These books have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Japanese. More information regarding Lanoue, his novels, and his Issa translations can be found at his website