“Amidst the countless / literature is a portal open to / creativity” reads a haiku written by junior Peter Liu on a piece of round, light-blue paper on the door of room 615E.
These ‘Haiku Stones’ have recently been placed around the school by English teacher Emily Moore and the students in her Poetry Workshop class.
According to a paragraph written on each stone, “In Japan, ‘Haiku Stones’ mark areas of poetic significance.” Although the definitions and format of a haiku are flexible, haiku is recognized as a style of Japanese poetry that emphasizes simplicity and attempts to capture the essence of a place or experience, often in nature. The traditional format of a haiku is a first line containing five syllables, a second line with seven syllables and a third line with five syllables.
The poems were hung up on Friday, October 6. They can be found at the bridge entrance, in room 615E where the class is held, in the staircases and in other areas. “The idea of the ‘Haiku Stones’ is that they’re a bit hidden, so that they’re special to find,” said Moore, mentioning as an example a poem hidden in the back of the library. She compared finding a ‘Haiku Stone’ to “finding a ladybug. You are lucky if you see one,” she said.
Moore was inspired to do this activity with her classes after she took a trip to Japan through the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund in 2007, a program designed by the Japanese government that encourages American educators to visit Japan and learn about its culture. Moore decided to study the tradition of Japanese poetry, visiting the Basho Museum in Tokyo. Matsuo Basho, whom the museum is named after, was a famous Japanese poet, described by Moore as the “Shakespeare of Japan”. Written during a trip between Tokyo and Ogaki in 1689, “The Narrow Road to the Interior” is his collection of haikus and prose written at particular places. Later generations of poets returned to these areas and placed rocks and plaques with poems as a public arts project. This motivated Moore to do the same at Stuyvesant and, since 2007, she has done the ‘Haiku Stones’ project with her classes every semester.
This year, the students in her classes studied Japanese poetry styles such as haiku, tanka and renga. Tanka is a mood poem, often about love, sadness, or other ideas. Renga is a style of Japanese poetry that is often written by a group of poets taking turns to write stanzas, which alternate between two and three lines. One of the goals of the unit was to promote “cross-cultural understanding,” Moore said. The students created the ‘Haiku Stones’ toward the end of the unit.
The poems displayed are meant to be anonymous. Moore stated that she wanted to “represent voices from the class”, but also to have students read the poems rather than “just to see their friend’s name.”
Students in the classes that participated in the activity enjoyed being able to read and learn about haiku, and felt proud of having their work displayed in the school.
“I learned how to express my feelings through as few words as possible,” Liu said.
Although her poem was torn down the day after it was hung up, junior Disi Chen “enjoyed writing the haikus because it lets you feel what the whole process is about, like that special moment when its just one […] snapshot,” she said.
Junior Mustafa Kamal wrote a haiku about the cold temperature of his math classroom and as a result, his poem hangs outside that room. “I enjoyed writing about one snapshot where I was able to express one scene in a short sentence,” he said. “[Haiku are] very expressive.”
Many students did not notice the ‘Haiku Stones’ posted around the school, but those who did notice them enjoyed the idea.
“It incorporates literature into our school community, and they’re also short and easy to read while passing by,” freshman Sabid Manick said.
Sophomore Eric Li liked the ‘Haiku Stones’, but mentioned that it was difficult to see them when “there are a lot of people in the hallway,” he said.
Moore was pleased with the results of the project. “They’re a special window into a particularly little place or a part of the Stuy experience,” Moore said. She also cited its ease and low cost as a representation of how “simple things can really make a nice difference,” she said.