First published in South by Southeast XIV:2, [May] 2007, pages 14–15. My first visit to Camp Glenwood to teach haiku poetry was on 21 March 2002. Many students later provided comments and poems. Also anthologized in Journeys: An Anthology of International Haibun (Hyderabad, India: Nivasini Publishers, 2014), edited by Angelee Deodhar. +
Today I spent six hours at a juvenile detention center for boys aged thirteen to eighteen teaching haiku. Although the boys seemed somewhat engaged with the topic, asking good questions and writing poems for the exercises, the whole experience depressed me. They came from diverse local backgrounds, but clearly with limited life experience. When I spoke to them about kigo, some of them could not name the four seasons, nor the order in which they occurred. All their eyes looked glassy and beaten.
before me and after me
the patrons greeted by name
At the detention center their existence is highly regulated. They line up and must remain silent outside each classroom building before being ushered in on the teacher’s command. The camp had an administration building, a cafeteria, and a few simple classrooms, each in a separate building, with a woodworking and metal shop to teach practical skills and a cramped computer room with aging computers. The boys all had closely cropped military-style haircuts. They had colour-coded sweatshirts, depending on which of four spartan barracks they slept in. They all wore blue jeans, but with elastic waistbands—no belts allowed. In their clothing, only their shoes showed any kind of individuality. Some spoke little English, some had learning disabilities, some were street-smart and very sharp, playing along with the game of education. A few of them couldn’t have cared less that I was there. One boy took the initiative to ask me extra questions and seemed genuinely interested in poetry, and I gave him a copy of my poetry journal, Tundra. The poems the boys wrote included one on shooting someone and then pondering “now what?” Another student offered a haiku about slashing his wrists and watching his tears mingle with the dripping blood. Another wrote about a row of trees looking like soldiers that were ready to fly into the sky, to escape.
an unknown flower
beside the trail—
my pace slows
This center, called Camp Glenwood, is near La Honda, in California, surrounded by tall pines and gentle hills, remote from inner-city idleness. After the poetry sessions, I spent an hour at a favourite redwood grove nearby, just walking. I was startled by one particular moment when I saw a tiny snail at the foot of a giant redwood. On the way home, I had a slight headache and noticed that my brow was still creased from a sense of sadness for the difficult lives these boys had already had, for the difficult lives they surely still had ahead of them. I wondered how my teaching haiku for a few hours could possibly make any difference to them, these hardened kids who had committed, in some cases, very violent crimes.
sunlight off my watch
reflects on a snail