A (Purchased) Haiku For You, Mom

Finding the right gift for Mother's Day is often a challenge, so some students at Washington and Lee University are offering their classmates customized poems — at a price. Virginia Public Radio's Sandy Hausman reports.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tomorrow is Mother's Day and a professor at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia has a gift idea. She has set up a booth on campus to craft custom haiku.

From member station WVTF, Sandy Hausman reports.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: Fifteen students took turns at a long table outside the dining hall, notebooks and pens poised to honor mothers in that spare Japanese style. The haiku is 17 syllables - total. But University Registrar Scott Ditman was confident a small poem could hit big with the mother of his children.

SCOTT DITMAN: We've been married 34 years.

AARON JEONG: OK.

DITMAN: We have three kids - all of them grown. The last is graduating from college this month.

JEONG: OK, what does she like? what does she like to do, hobbies?

HAUSMAN: She started W&L's volleyball program.

JEONG: OK.

HAUSMAN: Right now she's getting into sewing.

In a matter of minutes, student Aaron Jeong had woven those words into poetry.

JEONG: Susan, let's bump, set and spike. Thirty-four years we've survived. How's sewing coming?

HAUSMAN: Michelle Szymczak was a bit more sentimental as she prepared a poem for her friend's mother - a special ed teacher who loves flowers.

MICHELLE SZYMCZAK: A selfless teacher, beautiful and special, like Stargazer lilies. Her favorite flowers are Stargazer lilies and that's why I included that in there.

HAUSMAN: The exercise seemed to come naturally for students who routinely text and tweet. One of them, a gifted calligrapher, put the poems on postcards. But English Professor Lesley Wheeler says no one had time for snail mail.

LESLEY WHEELER: What people are doing is they're photographing them on their cell phones and sending them that way.

HAUSMAN: This enterprise was an assignment. Professor Wheeler, hoping haiku duty would give her speed-happy students a chance to slow down, to think about mothers and other special people in their lives.

WHEELER: They require you to focus intensely on a moment and expand that moment. It's fast but it also makes fastness slow, if that makes sense.

BEVERLY LORIG: My mother's name is Myrtle. I'll bet this is the first Myrtle you've had today. M-Y-R...

HAUSMAN: Beverly Lorig, Director of Career Services at Washington & Lee, wanted a poem for her mom. Like other patrons, she gave five dollars to charity in exchange for the service, and left the students with some invaluable advice: Poetry might not seem like a job skill, but it could give graduates an edge.

, WASHINGTON & LEE UNIVERSITY: What I would say is appreciation of the other cultures and language that you have will move you to the front of the line when you're competing for other opportunities.

HAUSMAN: Haiku should be on the resume?

, WASHINGTON & LEE UNIVERSITY: Definitely. Absolutely.

HAUSMAN: Clouds rolled in, and rain fell, cutting the afternoon short, but the students had written 53 haiku, saying a lot with a little.

For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Lexington, Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.