1. From Japan to You: Haiku from Around the World

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    Can poetry overcome language barriers and cross cultures? A peek into centuries of Japanese poetry introduces us to the haiku and you can compose your own.

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    From Japan to You: Haiku from Around the World

    On a withered branch

    a crow is perched:

    an autumn evening. *

    Is this type of poetry familiar to you? Do you know what kind it is?

    Originating in Japan during the 14th century, the haiku form of poetry was made famous by Matsuo Basho in the 1600s. He wonderfully captured this poetic genre in his many haiku. These poems demand careful reading and contemplation to appreciate their subtle beauty.

    Over the centuries, rather than diminish in usage or relevancy, this ancient genre has done just the opposite. Haiku have been translated into hundreds of languages and are written and read all over the world. You are invited to join a large global community of people who enjoy writing and reading haiku today.

    How did it come to be that this medieval genre from Japan has permeated the whole world? Perhaps it is the brevity of haiku. Maybe it is the simple yet complex format. Similar to a flower bud waiting to blossom the haiku is like a beautiful flower hidden within the tightly-closed flower petals.

    Haiku can tell a lot — sometimes a whole life — in just 17 syllables. To do this, traditional Japanese haiku utilize symbolism. The mention of geese flying away might mean friends before a parting, a plum tree in winter may communicate the fortitude of the human spirit, a pheasant might represent a loving parent, and pearls may be tears. Prolonged contemplation and grasping the cultural symbolism are essential components to fully understanding the images and meanings found in each haiku.

    In this project, we will read a few haiku that have become classics in world literature. You will learn the core elements of haiku and will be able to create a haiku of your own.

    * Matsuo Basho’s haiku “Kare-eda-ni.../Crow”, written in 1680, translated by David Barnhill (Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho, State University of New York Press, 2004, p 162).

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