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Counting Syllables

Counting Syllables: From Haiku to Tricube

Many teachers use haiku as a way of teaching kids about syllables. Then you get this:

(Source: a facebook meme. I don’t know who first posted this.)

I say it’s not.

Elementary school teachers have long used the haiku in lessons on syllables. But a haiku is much more than syllable count. In fact, many modern English haiku don’t count syllables at all. And some are only one line – these are called monoku.

A haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form that goes back hundreds of years. It is a short nature poem, a flash of awareness in the present moment – like a snapshot from a camera capturing a moment in time. It juxtaposes two images, and ends with an unexpected surprise. It focuses on imagery, but is not just a description or narrative. The emotion comes through the awareness and surprise at the end. 

One of the most famous examples is Basho’s frog poem where the frog jumps into the pond. It depicts a moment in time. An old pond / frog jumps in / Splash! You see the two images – the pond and the frog – and the splash is the unexpected ending.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to many translations of Basho’s famous frog poem:

http://www.bopsecrets.org/gateway/passages/basho-frog.htm

If you want to teach about syllables – and math – try the Tricube form invented by Phillip Larrea. The poem has three stanzas. Each stanza has three lines, and each line has three syllables.

Here is a tricube I wrote about summer:

Hot, hazy.

Slow, lazy.

It’s Summer.

Photo credit: Edward Kanze, naturalist and author.



Bird and breeze  

sing summer

 melodies.

Photo Credit: Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield

Flowers bloom,

sweet perfume

of summer.

Photo credit: Edward Kanze, naturalist and author.

I learned about the tricube from poet and children’s author Matt Forrest Essenwine. You can check out his blog posts about this poetry form here: https://mattforrest.wordpress.com/2021/04/29/poetry-friday-have-you-tried-a-tricube-the-roundup-is-here/

and here:

https://mattforrest.wordpress.com/2021/04/15/poetry-friday-tricube-a-first-attempt/

 Like a haiku, the tricube poem uses few words to convey a thought – so it forces the poet to think about word choice in order to incorporate imagery, emotion, and wordplay.

If you try writing your own tricube poem, post it in the comments.