OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU students discover sociology through haiku

10/08/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. –

If culture is lost

to mass consumerism,

Can we buy it back?

-- by Laura (Beth) Caudill, junior, OSU

It started as a creative assignment. Kristin Barker, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Oregon State University, required her intro-level students to write haiku, or structured 17-syllable poems, about sociology.

The results were so clever and insightful that Barker decided to compile the haiku into a book, “Haiku for Sociologists,” a funny and sometimes pointed publication from Basho Press filled with 100 three-line poems written by OSU undergraduate students.

The book is already available at major booksellers, including Amazon.com, but there will be a local book release on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The free public event will be held at the main rotunda of Valley Library on the OSU campus.

Students will read some of their poems and will be available to sign copies of the book, which will be on sale at the event courtesy of the OSU Bookstore. The students who will read their haiku include James Rodgers, a junior receiver and return specialist on the OSU football team.

“I really enjoyed writing my haiku,” Rodgers said. “This was an opportunity to express something important to me about being an African American.”

OSU senior Rachel Heath, who also will read her haiku on Tuesday, said she enjoyed Barker’s class so much, she decided to minor in sociology.

“The haiku project was really interesting because rather than study for a final exam, I had to critically examine what I had learned and illustrate my understanding using only 17 syllables,” she said. “Writing the haiku helped me to develop a working understanding and definition of what sociology is rather than just memorizing enough information to pass an exam.”

Barker began using the haiku assignment, in addition to conventional examinations, in her intro-level classes in 2003. Boiling a sociological observation or principle down to sentences in a five-seven-five syllable format is not an easy task.

“Some students who have been struggling all semester suddenly blossom, where others who think nothing of 10-page essays freeze up,” Barker said. “But it gives all the students a chance to look at what’s around them in a new light. That’s part of what both haiku and sociology try to accomplish.”

The book also explains the value of writing and reading haiku as a classroom assignment, and suggestions for other teaching approaches that engage creative student activity. 

Gary Tiedeman, an emeritus professor at OSU, is co-editor of the book along with Barker. He said haiku is a perfect change-up pitch for teaching sociology. 

“It’s exotic, it’s brief, and it has crisp limits,” he said. 

“Haiku for Sociologists” is available through the OSU Bookstore, as well as online booksellers.  Royalties from the book go the Department of Sociology to improve the educational experience of future OSU students.

For book info, contact the publisher, Basho Press, at (206) 200-9525 or online at www.BashoPress.com and BashoPress@aol.com.