SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
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.
AARON JEONG: OK.
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 OF MUSIC)
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