Revisiting haiku in America: An interview with Atsushi Iida

David McMurray


After earning his undergraduate degree in English Literature at Aoyama Gakuin University, Atsushi Iidatraveled to the U.S. toqualify as an ESL/EFL instructor, studyingEnglish composition and TESOLat Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Outreach learned that he currently conducts research on the application of haiku poetry to EFL Japanese contexts and how creative writing can support academic writing in L2 contexts. In course work at IUP he compares haiku by native and non-native speakers of English appearing in the Asahi Haikuist Network, noting the rhetorical differences between the two groups of poets. Writing is a means of identification, expression, and negotiation of cultural distinctiveness. Iida’s comparative study of Japanese and non-Japanese composers of English haiku will likely expose expressions of individuality and enculturation.A PhD candidatein the Composition & TESOL program,Iida’s PhD dissertation title is “Revisiting haiku: Application of haiku to ESL (or EFL) freshman college writing.”

Outreach:An October 2007 Outreach column featured Hisako Mori, who teaches a tutorial class at McMaster University,where students of the Japanese language compose haiku poems. As a tutor in classes of Japanese studies and as a student of English at a university in Pennsylvania, our readers would be pleased to hear about your experiences.

Iida:As aGraduate Teaching Assistant (GA),I have taught Japanese for three years here at IUP. I teach all levels of Japanese language. Although my status is a GA, I am doing exactly the same things as other professors do in othercourses. Since my major is Composition & TESOL, I’m trying to apply what I learned in graduate classes to my Japanese classes. Unfortunately, I haven’t taught haiku in these classes, but I may teach haiku in an advanced level class next semester.

Outreach:In your advanced level classes are you thinking of teaching students an appreciation of haiku in Japanese, or the composition of haiku in Japanese?

Iida:Let me answer your questions. I will have students compose haiku. However, teaching the target language with the integration of four skills is my philosophy, so I might start with reading others’ haiku written by Japanese. I won’t expect my students to interpret haiku as Japanese people do. Instead, I would like them to understand the nature of haiku: multiple interpretations are possible, and readers can have their own interpretations for a haiku.This is sort of the important idea for second or foreign language learningin terms of developing communication skills with the sense of voice.  Language learning should be fun, and reading and writing haiku shouldalso befun. As you may know, the original meaning of haiku written in kanji refers to “enjoying words/songs.”

Outreach:In your elementary Japanese language classes, are you mostly concentrating on getting your students to speak and write in basic Japanese?

Iida:One of the main purposes ofthe lower levelclassis to understand the structure of Japanese grammar. My students still have difficulty in generating output of their knowledge.Also, they are second-year students. It isjust a two-year experience of studying Japanese in their life.At this moment, it’s important to have my students learn the basic knowledge, which they can use later to freely express themselves in both oral and written formats.

Outreach:Do you expose students in the lower levels to Japanese culture, for example poetry or literary works, by providing translations and explanations of it in English?

Iida:The understanding of poetry and literary textsmay be a long way to go.  If I havemy students survive in this class, they could do so, but it is more important to maintain and develop their motivation to study Japaneseat this level. Hence, I have put an emphasis on their needs to study the language.

Outreach:Do you think that composing haiku in the Japanese language, as a form of Japanese literature, would be too difficult for your university students at Indiana University?

Iida:Itmay be difficult to use haiku as Japanese literature, but I’m going to use haiku for communicative purposes.The use of literature is not a goal but just a tool for their language learning.I’m not sure if I can teach haiku, but in any situation, I need to consider the justification for using haiku in my class while negotiating with students’ needs for studyingJapanese. When I find it, I will be ready to apply haiku to my teaching, but if I cannot find it, I won’t do that.

Outreach:Have you thought about presenting haiku composed in English by Japanese poets, as well as haiku composed in Japanese to students in your class?

Iida:Unfortunately, I have never thought of that, but your idea sounds interesting to me.  I always wonder if JFL students can express their feelings using haiku rhetoric, and more specifically, whether they can feel comfortable in developing their thoughts with only 17 syllables. Second or foreign language learners, in many cases, have limited word choices. Rather, it may be more important for me to help them to expose their feelings freely without using a specific rhetoric.

Outreach:Thank you.

Studies of contrastive rhetoric which inform haiku writing practice by Japanese and English writers can assist Japanese EFL students, as suggested by Esposito (1997). He reported on the applicability of haiku poetry to teaching practices in a variety of contexts, such as how to use haiku in lieu of brainstorming for ideas in the pre-writing stage of paragraph composition and how to progress from writing haiku to writing longer texts.According to Iida (2008), however, few researchers have discussed the assessment of haiku as a factor in second language teaching.The aim of Iida’s study is to examine the contribution of writingEnglish haiku to academic writing in ESL/EFL contexts. His research introduces the concept of haiku poetry writing as expressive pedagogy, and then describes what factors need to be assessed in haiku writing in terms of peer assessment and teacher assessment. In this way he hopes to produce assessment tools for haiku poetry writing as expressive pedagogy at the tertiary level in a Japanese EFL context. He intends to examine the characteristics of English haiku writing focusing on the following three points: structure (how structurally designed features affect L2 academic writing); process (what factors in the process of composing haiku are transferable to L2 academic writing); and social function (how the writer’s social positioning impacts the way in which the writer situates him/herself in academic disciplines in L2 writing).

While following up this interview with Iida by email (6 February 2010) he admits,“I'm not a poet, nor am I a haikuist (it’s difficult to identify oneself, right?). However, I’m now more comfortable discussing haiku with those who are interested in the genre. I can say that I’m not only a Japanese who knows well about haiku but a writer-teacher-researcher of the poem.”Analyzing the haiku of others has led Iida (2010) to put his own pen to paper. He penned the following poem for a major daily newspaper with an e-book link, seeking “to better understand what English haiku is,to knowhow different it is from Japanese original haiku, and how it will be evaluated. I hope this experience will give me a new perspective of composing English haiku.” His work appeared just before Valentine’s Day.


she will tell me

but I can’t

Not coming from a culture where men often express their affections verbally, Iida likely fears Valentine’s Day in America. His lover is sure to give him chocolates and whisper in his ear. Capitalized, the threewords of endearment sound as if they are shouted aloud. Perhaps he can return her favors with a haiku poem? Here are a few more of his creative poems.

Cherry Blossoms:

Give me a good excuse for

Making a toast


The cherry blossoms:

Giving such a good excuse

Unlimited toasts


Rice Wine:

Faces turning red and

Memories gone


Uniquely sake

Dry and sweet texturizing:

This is how we live



Esposito, J. (1997). A poem in the process: Haiku as an alternative to brainstorming. JALT Journal, 19(2), pp. 292-308.

Iida, A. (2008). Revisiting haiku: Application of haiku to ESL (or EFL) freshman college writing. Retrieved December 10, 2009 from

Iida, A. (2010, February 5). Asahi Haikuist. In D. McMurray (Ed.). Asahi Haikuist Network. Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun, p. 24. Retrieved February 6, 2010, from