Hoards of Haikus

Creative Writing 2 students cover the school in original poems


Addie Gleason

Culinary teacher Katie Hashley receives two haikus around her door. Student writers chose to highlight the wafting scents and spice concoctions created in the kitchen. “I love that the students chose to write haikus about our class because especially if it’s a former student, it lets me know that they really enjoyed taking the class,” Hashley said. “[The haikus] were completely true. When we bake cookies, the whole school does, in fact, know. In my mind, it’s free advertising for students to take the class. It also made me really happy because when we make cookies, it’s always a really fun day for students.”

White papers appear spontaneously outside classrooms and school locations, each detailing an essential part of school culture. Formatted in the familiar three-line structure of a classic haiku, student writers highlight the shared experiences that form bonds throughout high school. Students pause in the hallway to read each paper, intrigued.

Taking inspiration from Luis Alberto Urrea’s collection of poems about Chicago, English teacher Dan Barnes created an assignment in which students in Creative Writing 2 craft haikus about various locations around the school. The project followed a unit on unique poetry structures, and  after a round of peer editing and formatting, the poems were ready to make their debut.

“I created the West High Haiku Project. We covered the school in poetry to not only celebrate the building but also celebrate poetry,” Barnes said. “I think that students enjoy the project because it gives them an opportunity to have ownership of the building and not just be someone who goes through West High but can make a mark on West High and explain how they experience West High.”

Though Barnes has done this project in past years, he could not do it in person over COVID-19, and instead had students create digital collections about various St. Louis locations. This year, the haikus are making a full return to the school’s halls on March 15.

“This project is important because it not only gives positive vibes about different places in the school but also advertises creative writing and the importance of poetry. A lot of people really rag on poetry; I think it’s one of the most important art forms because it has the most emotion behind it,” Creative Writing 2 student and senior Amelia Burgess said.

Many students chose to write about locations that are important to them, including Burgess, who wrote about the library desk because she works as a student aid there.

“I am probably behind the library desk five times a day, and it has become my safe place at school. When I heard we had to write a haiku about places in the school, that was the most obvious one for me,” Burgess said. “It’s so cool that we all chose to write about places that meant a lot to us. It’s really special because it was easy to communicate who has made a difference and why.”

Every student wrote at least five haikus, with each paper containing one haiku and the “PWestHaikuChallenge” hashtag, along with encouraging other students to join in creating haikus.

“My favorite part about this project [is] sharing a love of poetry with the school,” Barnes said. “It’s fun because I’ll hear students say ‘What are all these papers?’ And they’ll stop and read them. You can see that even if it doesn’t stick with them deep in their hearts, they pause for a moment to read poetry and experience poetry. There is something really communal in that idea of a shared reading experience.”