Once a week, I teach a writing class in the village where I live. At the moment I have 11 students; the youngest is 20+, and the oldest is 90-. (The oldest, Phyllis, had a new laptop for Christmas, and she's very excited about the word count tool.) As far as I know, there is only one who wants to actually write a novel, the rest are just delighting in the opportunity to do something they've always enjoyed but have never quite got round to before. For the first few weeks this term, I decided to do some poetry. It's not what any of us likes best, but I felt it would be good to go macro - to focus on something concentrated - rather than going large, which was what we did last term with fiction and a little biographical writing.
As always, the students surprised me. Their natural tendency is to use rhyme, so I asked them to write shape poems. It was just playing, freeing them up: I didn't expect them to come up with anything much. But they did: there were several that, after they'd been read out, provoked that moment of stillness, that sort of 'Oh!' of surprise at a freshly minted thought or image. (I'm sorry I don't have any of them to hand to demonstrate - you'll have to take my word for it.) The following week, we did haikus, and the same thing happened. There was a lovely one by a farmer, where she talked about her favourite time of day on the land, 'in the amber light of evening' if memory serves me well.
But as I was thinking about suggesting to my students the sort of things they might want to note down in their newly acquired books, I had an idea. How would it be if, before they sat down to do their 'homework', they limbered up by writing a haiku? I am absolutely not a poet, but it seems to me that what haiku does is enable you to focus on a momentary impression, feeling, sight, thought, and then to reflect on it. It is very short: the commonly used form in the English version has three lines, with five syllables in the first and last lines and seven in the middle one. So you have to be very economical in your use of words; you have to make choices. I like this idea; I think it must be good for the soul, and probably for the writing.
I decided to have a go myself. There was no sudden blossoming of poetic genius, but it drew my thoughts together - it drew some words together which conveyed something of what I was thinking about that morning. Here is the best of my efforts so far.
Rose on winter branch
Nearby, first blossom of spring
And the snow, waiting.
I shall be interested to see if my students had a go too - I'm sure if they have, there will be surprises.
Finally, on the subject of notebooks, here is one I kept when I was a child. It had stories, pictures, pressed flowers - even, bizarrely, a plan for a garden seat. (I never made one. I'm pretty sure I would have remembered if I had.) Below, there is a story with a map to illustrate it. It starts off quite well, but then it just sort of peters out, as do several of the others. So little change there, then... Mind you, there's a jolly good one about an ink-eating monster called The Squidge, which brought civilisation to a halt, until the earth's scientists found a way to send it back to its home planet. (It wept inky tears as it waved goodbye.) Hm - it sounds rather better than the haiku. Back to the drawing board... or the notebook!