Good Writing and Can Emerge from 177 Funny Syllables

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Online PR News – 24-August-2010 – – Probably no poetry form is taught more often than haiku because it is simple to explain and helps students work on concise and condensed language, concrete images, and careful word choice. Fortunately, these same writing skills can be practiced whether students follow the traditional content focus of nature, season, and reflection, or turn their aim toward the comic moments they see around them. While the formal rules remain the same (three lines, 5-7-5 syllables or fewer), the goal is to first set up a moment, image, or scene and then to offer a humorous twist.

You can find some great examples of humorous contemporary haikus fairly easily. Try having your students look at Dan Anderson's dog haiku. Siobhan Adcock's Links Of London Bracelets(http://www.links-of-london.org/S-Bracelets-5.html) edited collection, Hipster Haiku, is another excellent source. For a playful Zen perspective on the human-computer interface, most any classroom-appropriate topic is fair game for haikus, provided that each haiku follows the form and includes a humorous "surprise" in the second half of the poem.

One comic form with which nearly all students are already familiar is the top-ten list. This list is really a series of one-liner jokes based on the same theme. David Letterman has made this a staple of the Late Show. One begins:
TOP TEN SIGNS YOU'RE WATCHING A BAD MONSTER MOVIE

He doesn't eat people—he just licks them (For the rest of this list, see Letterman)
Notice how such a list also relies on surprise by offering answers that oppose our normal expectations. In other words, we have to know what makes a good monster movie, to understand the monster film genre, in order to get the jokes. In this sense, the challenge for student writers is to know the topic well and to then think in opposites with a bit of exaggeration.

Laurie Halse Anderson uses a slightly different version of this comic strategy in her novel Speak by having the traumatized main character, Melinda, point out some of the essential ironies of high school life:
THE FIRST TEN LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL
1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced. (5—6)

The presiding beauty of the novel is Rutkoski's writing—a cacophony of elegance and ease—resplendent supporting characters, and the kind of simplicity an author writes hard for. Her story is both magical and sensitive, steeped in themes of "otherness," as in her portrayal of the Roma. Striking echoes of classism, elitism, and communism flow beneath the surface of this heroine's journey. These narrative trajectories provide a substantive, steady heartbeat where Petra earns her status as a true heroine and Rutkoski earns her book's ending.

In this list the humorous surprise depends on the reader recognizing the incongruity between the claim and Melinda's actual Links Of London Earrings(http://www.linksoflondon4u.com/earrings-c-183.html) experiences.

By being selective about the topic, a teacher can turn this into an interpretive activity—Top Ten Signs the Old Man Has Been Out to Sea Too Long—or an examination of high school culture— The Top Ten Things You Should Never Do at a High School Dance—or an exploration of national politics— The Top Ten Ways You Know Your Congressman/ Senator/President Is Making Promises That Won't Be Kept. For a change of pace, students might want to try their hands at humorous multiple-choice questions that follow essentially the same format, with the question providing the topic and the four answers providing the humor.

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