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A (Purchased) Haiku For You, Mom


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.


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.


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) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.