RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Whether you grew up in the city or the country or anywhere in between, you probably remember plenty of summers catching lightning bugs, playing in a gushing fire hydrant, logrolling down hills maybe.
KWAME ALEXANDER: OK. I don't remember logrolling down hills.
ALEXANDER: I lived in Brooklyn. But we did play stickball.
MARTIN: Kwame Alexander, how's it going?
ALEXANDER: It's great. How are you, Rachel?
MARTIN: I'm doing well.
(SOUNDBITE OF DJ JAZZY JEFF & THE FRESH PRINCE SONG, "SUMMERTIME")
MARTIN: Oh, yeah.
ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMERTIME")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, yeah, summertime, summer, summer, summertime.
MARTIN: You know why we're playing that song, Kwame?
ALEXANDER: Of course, I do, but enlighten me.
MARTIN: It's summertime. It makes everybody happy. There are all kinds of opportunities for poetry, I think. I know you probably agree. And while there's a lot of beauty in the long narrative poem, I understand you are feeling the haiku right now.
ALEXANDER: I am. And talk about feeling the haiku as the poem of the summer - it's short and sweet, like summer memories.
ALEXANDER: Especially for my kid because before you know it, she'll be back in school.
ALEXANDER: I remember Coney Island. I remember cutting grass for $5 a lawn. I remember football in the streets. I remember two turntables and a tape deck, rapping in my basement - summer vacation.
MARTIN: Look, I feel like that was all just a poem. I mean, mine aren't as poetic. I do just remember that feeling of total and complete freedom - right? - just on your bike riding around. You don't have to be home till it's dark outside.
MARTIN: No one's tracking you on the cellphone. You're just free to do your thing.
ALEXANDER: We didn't have cellphones back then.
MARTIN: No, we did not. No, we did not.
ALEXANDER: So we want to take those memories and use them to construct haiku. And it's really easy to do. It's a three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third.
MARTIN: All right. So we should share an example. I've got one. This is a haiku by the Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa. Here it is. (Reading) squatting motionless, the sun-tanned child and the toad stare at each other.
ALEXANDER: Can't you just see a kid in July eyeing a frog with adventure and awe in her eyes?
MARTIN: I love it.
ALEXANDER: OK. So here's one from the novelist Richard Wright, who many people don't know wrote haiku also. (Reading) The sudden thunder startles the magnolias to a deeper white.
MARTIN: I love magnolias. I love thinking about that smell in summertime.
ALEXANDER: It's nothing like the smell of sweet candy during the summer.
MARTIN: It's true.
All right so, listeners, you and your kids, this is what we want you to do. We want you to write a summer haiku with your own memories, right? So you can send it in, this haiku, based on your memories from your childhood summers that paints a picture of what summer meant to you and means to you now.
ALEXANDER: Exactly, and try your best to follow the rules - the five syllables in the first, seven in the second, five in the third. And try not to use the word summer in your poem.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. Let the images alone evoke the memory of the season.
MARTIN: That's a good idea. All right. Send your submissions in writing, or you can record a voice memo by going to npr.org/summerhaiku. And next time Kwame and I are together in the studio, we will read or play a few of your poems.
ALEXANDER: I can't wait.
MARTIN: It's going to be cool.
Kwame Alexander is the author of "The Undefeated" and a new picture book titled "How To Read A Book." He is also a regular contributor to this very program.
Kwame, thank you so much. Happy summer.
ALEXANDER: Watermelon hugs to you my friend.
MARTIN: Oh, yum.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMERTIME")
WILL SMITH: (Rapping) Back then, I didn't really know what it was. But now I see...
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