Journal of Nursing Education

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Haiku Poetry and Student Nurses: An Expression of Feelings and Perceptions

Sally E Schustec, MSN, RN

Abstract

Writing haiku, an unrhymed Japanese verse form, was not quite what students in a first clinical course expected as part of their course requirements. However, a class of 60 associate degree nursing students surprised both themselves and their instructors with the results of just such an assignment.

The impetus for the haiku exercise was an enhancement of the gerontology content in the curriculum. As part of this enhancement, I had been looking for a creative way in which students might express their perceptions and feelings about aging. A chance personal introduction to haiku during a workshop on spirituality and aging triggered the realization that this was just what I was looking for.

My original idea was to have the students submit one haiku per week during a five-week clinical rotation. Just prior to the introduction of the assignment, the students had been oriented to their clinical sites, either a nursing home facility or a Veterans Administration hospital. In class, I explained that a haiku was generally made up of only three lines, containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively, which capture a moment in tune and space. I added that the verse form might be likened to a written photograph. The students were encouraged through the haiku to express their feelings on aging and the aging process. To diminish expected anxiety, I explained that the haiku would be ungraded and would be read only by their clinical instructors. The assignment proved to be so successful that I later asked the students for permission to share their efforts with other faculty. (Students have given permission to have their work quoted.)

To my surprise, one of the students handed me the following within minutes of my explanation, saying, "Is this what you mean?"

Embarrassment is

Being old and lying on

A cart so nude . . . NO!

- Marleen Nies

The student explained that during her clinical orientation, she had observed a patient being taken on a cart for a shower and that the patient was completely naked. Through her haiku, the student had found a way to express the anger and outrage she had felt over the incident. I knew then that this assignment was going to work.

Over the next five weeks, a number of students' haiku reflected their own feelings on aging. The following are examples.

I'm glad I met her

She helped me realize this

That aging is life

- Jessica Tinko

Gentle hands caress

Cool limbs weary from the past

Days of mine to be

- Sharon Peters

Soft white like gentle snow

The hair a symbol of passed time

From years of life lived

- Dawn Finley

Others expressed perceived feelings from their patients' perspective:

Life is the season

Changing as the years go by

Winter is the end

- Darlene Laskowski

The wrinkles are here

Yet every day comes and goes

Life still has meaning

- Pat Strain

Let me drift away

Let my soul float to heaven

Let me die in peace

- Christina Sontag

One student who cared for an elderly gentleman given to reminiscing, and about whom the staff had remarked "not that story again," wrote:

Reliving the past

The older man thrived on it

It kept him going

- Eileen Pearson

I think the staff missed the need this patient had to reminisce. The student didn't.

A particularly "sprightly" patient's sense of humor was expressed in:

I am ninety-two

Betty Lou is eighty-two

She's still a kid

- Christina Sontag

I couldn't help but laugh when I read this one. The frustration elderly patients feel in general and in particular…

Writing haiku, an unrhymed Japanese verse form, was not quite what students in a first clinical course expected as part of their course requirements. However, a class of 60 associate degree nursing students surprised both themselves and their instructors with the results of just such an assignment.

The impetus for the haiku exercise was an enhancement of the gerontology content in the curriculum. As part of this enhancement, I had been looking for a creative way in which students might express their perceptions and feelings about aging. A chance personal introduction to haiku during a workshop on spirituality and aging triggered the realization that this was just what I was looking for.

My original idea was to have the students submit one haiku per week during a five-week clinical rotation. Just prior to the introduction of the assignment, the students had been oriented to their clinical sites, either a nursing home facility or a Veterans Administration hospital. In class, I explained that a haiku was generally made up of only three lines, containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively, which capture a moment in tune and space. I added that the verse form might be likened to a written photograph. The students were encouraged through the haiku to express their feelings on aging and the aging process. To diminish expected anxiety, I explained that the haiku would be ungraded and would be read only by their clinical instructors. The assignment proved to be so successful that I later asked the students for permission to share their efforts with other faculty. (Students have given permission to have their work quoted.)

To my surprise, one of the students handed me the following within minutes of my explanation, saying, "Is this what you mean?"

Embarrassment is

Being old and lying on

A cart so nude . . . NO!

- Marleen Nies

The student explained that during her clinical orientation, she had observed a patient being taken on a cart for a shower and that the patient was completely naked. Through her haiku, the student had found a way to express the anger and outrage she had felt over the incident. I knew then that this assignment was going to work.

Over the next five weeks, a number of students' haiku reflected their own feelings on aging. The following are examples.

I'm glad I met her

She helped me realize this

That aging is life

- Jessica Tinko

Gentle hands caress

Cool limbs weary from the past

Days of mine to be

- Sharon Peters

Soft white like gentle snow

The hair a symbol of passed time

From years of life lived

- Dawn Finley

Others expressed perceived feelings from their patients' perspective:

Life is the season

Changing as the years go by

Winter is the end

- Darlene Laskowski

The wrinkles are here

Yet every day comes and goes

Life still has meaning

- Pat Strain

Let me drift away

Let my soul float to heaven

Let me die in peace

- Christina Sontag

One student who cared for an elderly gentleman given to reminiscing, and about whom the staff had remarked "not that story again," wrote:

Reliving the past

The older man thrived on it

It kept him going

- Eileen Pearson

I think the staff missed the need this patient had to reminisce. The student didn't.

A particularly "sprightly" patient's sense of humor was expressed in:

I am ninety-two

Betty Lou is eighty-two

She's still a kid

- Christina Sontag

I couldn't help but laugh when I read this one. The frustration elderly patients feel in general and in particular when their nurses try to change lifelong habits was also expressed:

Have a cigarette

Later be short of breath

Please don't bother me

- Mary Venezia

I'll do it myself!

I cannot do it anymore

I hate being old

- Anne Bluxome

These students clearly captured their patients' feelings.

In my original instructions, I had told my students that I felt that their haiku would reflect what they'd learned in their support courses, a bonus for taking these courses. For example, this proved to be true when, from psychology, Erickeon's stages of development were reflected.

Many contemplate

Integrity or despair

Was my Ufe worthwhile

- Marleen Nies

Slowly, times go by

Sleeping, a means to an end

Is this all there is?

- Kirn DiTullio

The joy and reward of caring for the elderly was frequently reflected, as in:

It's a joy to help

Someone who has lived so long

A smile, a reward

- Lori Chludzinski

She does make my day

I have grown real close to her

I make her day too

- Jessica Tinko

Several students reflected on the loneliness of aging.

I sit here alone

My life all tattered and torn

Who will love me now

-Betty Miller

Weary, weak and frail

I sit lonesome now each day

Forgotten by all

-Deb Antolik

I live, here this body

Blue veins, hearing aid, alone

One hundred and two

- Crystal Corritore

As the five-week gerontology rotation was ending and a five-week maternity rotation was about to begin, I found myself reluctant to give up the haiku assignment. If the haiku had enabled the students to express their feelings and perceptions on aging, why not explore the same feelings and perceptions from the viewpoint of the beginning of the aging process - birth. The results were equally rewarding.

A student assigned to a teenaged mother wrote:

My life has changed

Yesterday I played and ran

Today I am a mother

- Heidi Salis

I think the student said it all about the reality of a teenage pregnancy. Another student reflected on the anguish and frustration she felt when caring for a mother who had children already removed from her home because of neglect and was displaying little interest in her newborn.

Why did you send her?

Does she have a chance

I wish she were mine

- Crystal Corritore

Students who were present at an actual birth often reflected not only on the wonderment of the experience but on the questions and hopes they had for the infant.

Our future Generation

Lies tucked away inside of mom

How will their world be?

- Dawn Finley

Little seed took flight

Tis just a little sapling

Will grow with light

- Karen Nies

Babies are God's way

For the world to continue

Feed and comfort them

- Diane Schlecht

Crystal Corritore remembered the reality of caring for a newborn.

They are really precious

Don't get any ideas!!

Remember the work??

In the real world, all does not go perfectly in every delivery. The feelings of a student who cared for an infant struggling to live were expressed in:

The baby lies here

Tubes and monitors watch him

Not letting him die

- Matt Fasenmeyer

William Higginson (1985), author of the Haiku Handbook, writes that the central act of haiku is letting an object or event touch us and then sharing the event with another. The students involved in this assignment were, I felt, able to do just that. None would probably have considered herself a poet at the beginning of the haiku assignment, or that the haiku poetry was a way in which nurses could communicate feelings and perceptions. I secretly feel that many of them now feel exactly the opposite. One student was so delighted with her efforts that she would submit two haiku per week. Many, I'm convinced, will continue writing haiku throughout their careers. The haiku assignment will certainly be a part of the course requirements in the future.

A speaker at the 1991 National Organization for the Advancement of Associate Degree Nursing (N-OADN) convention encouraged nurse educators to help students develop their creative potential, to use their right brains. If you're looking for a way to do this, haiku might just be the answer. Remember . . .

Deep in each student

A spark, an idea lies waiting

Open it to the light!

References

  • Higgineon, W., & Harter, P. (1985). The haiku handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill.

10.3928/0148-4834-19940201-13

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