By Brendan Anderson, AmeriCorps member serving on the Staples, Inc. team with Curley K-8 School
Header photo: "Unicorn" by yosuke muroya is licensed under CC BY 2.0 -- cropped from original

Lately, in the third grade class I support we have been learning about Japanese culture by reading Dragon of the Red Dawn, a Magic Treehouse book by Mary Pope Osborne. In the book, Jack and Annie meet Bashō, who, they soon learn, is considered one of the most influential poets in Japanese literature, particularly for his haiku.

With this book in mind, I asked some of my students in afterschool to help me write some Japanese-styled poetry. One student in particular was interested, so I showed her a sample haiku I had written, explained how to count syllables, and then put a piece of paper in front of her with a pen. For a long while she sat there, clearly thinking, her fingers counting out words heard only in her head and, for a while, I was content to let her process.

As time went on, however, I began to worry for her intense look of concentration was beginning to look more like the frustration she feels when stuck on a math problem, just before starting to panic. Out of concern, I cautioned, “If you’re feeling frustrated, you don’t have to write anything. I want this to be fun, not make you upset!” I couldn’t tell if this made any impression for the look did not disappear as she stood up, walked over to her backpack, took out her own piece of paper, and wrote down these three lines:

A bird chirps and sings
In the warm season of spring–
It flaps its blue wings.

I was amazed as I finally understood the source of her furrowed glare while grappling words into place. This poet, who wishes to be known simply as Unicorn*, smiled proudly as I exclaimed, “How did you make it rhyme in only seventeen syllables!?”

She then wrote three more in less time and with visible joy, as well as a tanka, and taught me anew to trust students to know themselves, their capabilities, and, especially, their art.

More poems:
Go outside to play
You’ll see a unicorn play
You’ll see it playing.

-Unicorn, 3rd-grader

In the shallow pond
Where the tadpoles are growing
You’ll see the flowers bloom.

-Unicorn, 3rd-grader

Walking into school
Saying the pledge of the day
Then sit down and work.

-Unicorn, 3rd-grader

Walking silently
In a school where students learn
The teacher is great
We get back to our classroom
Then we do some more schoolwork.

-Unicorn, 3rd-grader

*Pen name chosen by student

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