Shimer College

August 26, 2013

Periodic Table of Haiku

When writing week began I still had two ideas. One was writing a haiku for every element on the periodic table. The other was to build a pocket sized espresso machine.

I started working on both, but four poems in I abandoned the periodic table. After all, I had just spent $40 on copper parts for the espresso machine and I had all my tools, so I felt a little more invested in that one.




Wednesday afternoon I realized that it wasn’t going to work. My drill’s battery barely held a charge. I couldn’t find a pharmacy that would sell me the syringe I needed for the alcohol stove. There were discrepancies in the blueprint I found online and I didn’t have time to contact the man who made it and ask for his help.  Etc, etc, etc.

So, with roughly 48 hours, including sleeping, eating and working time remaining before the projects were due, I started writing haiku again. (Did you know that haiku is the plural form of haiku? I didn’t. I should also mention that modern haiku writers don’t follow the 5-7-5 syllable rule anymore unless it makes for a better poem. So I didn’t count syllables religiously.)

As I started writing (and reading) I found that there were elements, like Gallium, with beautiful characteristics that lent themselves to poetic images.

Melts like chocolate in your hand.
Brilliantly silver.

Other times I would read something that I thought was unique, like lithium burning when it touches water, only to find out that almost every element does the same thing.

Burns at water’s touch,
Skates sphere-like on its surface.
Never alone.

Because the traits only got me so far, I started writing haiku about the stories behind elements instead. 

Radium Girls.
Painted fingernails, licked brushes.
They told us it was safe.

I also wrote haiku, like the one I did for Antimony, that felt more like riddles than they did poetry:

Strangling itself,
Fire grabs it by the throat.
Is it a vase?

I would like to suggest that what makes writing week so special is that it is the time when each student personalizes his or her semester. It is a time to learn how to self-motivate and create and to stay up until seven in the morning writing haiku that you have come to hate because you switched projects too late and you’re too foolish to skim the articles and speed through the writing because your goal is perfection even more than it is completion.

Despite this, only a day later, after turning in your project, you will take it up again not for a grade, because that’s out of your hands now, but because it is something that you want to do.  You had initially envisioned a visual representation of your poetry and you’ll be gosh-darned if you will stop before your project is what it is supposed to be.

That said, I will definitely be finishing my espresso machine over break.