Honk if you love hawk haikus

Fascinating afternoon art class with the first-third grade kids during the downpour. Being encircled by the charcoal clouds and shockingly green foliage seemed perfect for our brush drawing session.

Because the kids are still talking about the presentation by Blackland Prairie Raptor Center last month, I chose owls and hawks for our subject. The children were introduced to haiku earlier this spring.

Popped a cd of Chinese bamboo flute music in the player for the children, but I really wanted to hear some Mary Lou Williams piano jazz. A dark, rainy day, a bamboo calligraphy brush, and piano jazz were always ingredients for successful paintings in Gail Butt's classroom overlooking the Sheldon sculpture garden.

After a very short practice of needle, bone, and growth/decay brush strokes geared to the children's level, we tried to discover the essence of owls. "Essence" isn't a word for this age, so we tried to find what is important about owls, what owlness makes them owlish.

We brainstormed owlness:

fly silent
hollow bones
talons hold
soft feathers
big eyes
eat mice
head turns all the way around
huddles in crook by tree trunk
night hunting
feather tufts make taller
ears high and low
spread wings
sleep days

We had the beginnings of a brush drawing and maybe even a poem. I told my experiences walking in the woods near my house in Millard, Nebraska, being surprised by great horned owls, and then surprising the owls and sending them flying off down the creek. Although I had to move away, this place is special in my memory because of the owls, I told the students. This intrigued the children. They wanted to know why I left this place where the owls meant so much to me. Was I a little kid then? Was I a grown-up? Was I a mom? Why did I like to walk in the snow? Why do families change and move?

Far too many questions to answer, even if I could. Still, the job of the artist and the poet is to describe the owlishness of life in the most economical, clear, and beautiful way possible.

I don't have any photos of the brush drawings. They are still in the drying rack. At the end of class the children wrote poems and haikus on scraps of paper using our brainstorming phrases.

If you are counting syllables to make a 5-7-5 haiku, it's tricky deciding whether owls is one syllable or two. Owl? Ow-ull? Awles?

One boy circumvented the problem by writing about red-shouldered hawks instead:


I Like How They Fly

The[y] eat Mice

Honks are Cool

Honks are indeed very cool, but that is a different chapter in my story.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

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