An Experiment in Creativity
Every subject that we teach offers not only general techniques but also gives specific ways of applying the principles of the development of creativity. As far as foreign languages are concerned, composition is one of the best ways of giving the students free access to distinguishing themselves. Besides practising and assimilating the rhetorical and syntactical structures typical of the respective languages, composition stimulates students to look for new connections, to associate, to imagine, to speculate, to give out new ideas, to give new directions to the ideas of their classmates.
Composition also encourages students to play with seemingly unconnected elements, to run intellectual risks, to probe structural and spatial relationships - among other things.
To support these assertions I will describe an experiment in individual creativity (I don't think this title is too high flown) that I made with 18-year-old students. The choice of the student sample used was determined by the near-mature stage of their cognitive development matched by the keenness of their sensitivity and their youthful propensity for originality.
The topic I chose might be the source of some surprise. I used a very short form of poem called the haiku, specific to the Japanese culture, but very well thought of internationally. Why a Japanese poem? Because of its form and content, and by its wide circulation beyond Japan.
Haiku have a set pattern, and are one of the shortest verse forms in the world. A haiku is made up of only seventeen syllables, written in a five-seven-five syllable arrangement. As every syllable in Japanese ends with a vowel, usually long, with stress relegated to a minor rôle, there is no rhyme and metre in a haiku, just assonance and alliteration. The only real differentiation between verse and prose is in the number of syllables.
The seventeen-syllable tradition is, however, just that - a tradition, or a kind of discipline. Of all the figures of speech, it is ellipsis that wholly belongs to the haiku. Metaphor, metonymy, personification, and simile are scarce, non-existent even. There are haiku lacking in verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. The noun is the most important part of speech, and ends the verse as a rule. This, as well as the rare occurrence of the personal pronoun, creates an atmosphere of indetermination, of stirring impersonality.
A little verse jewel, a haiku is the expression of a tension between poetry and significance where, as the result of a momentary illumination, the poet perceives the universal oneness of all things. Things come together in a way that their being and meaning is uniquely recognised, and the truth is realised as a single, indivisible whole. The poet is left to reflect how things are in the world with the innocence and freshness of a child's eye.
Beyond its striking picturesqueness and originality, the essential feature of the form is the knowledge of the poet and the reader that nothing in nature is alone and insignificant, that nothing is impure. Grasping the notions of the floral and animal worlds, haiku offer in concise way an exemplary and eloquent love for the beauty that surrounds us all.
With the four stages of the creative process (preparation, incubation, illumination, and elaboration) in mind, I began the experiment by making my students aware of the topic of composition. Then, after a detailed presentation of the main characteristics of the Japanese poem, supported by many examples in English and Romanian, I asked them to write at least three poems in the following week. To encourage confidence, I offered some of my own haiku:
That thirsty camel!
Why doesn't he want to drink
His driver's tears?
I assured the students that the originality of the outcome was not so important as the processes preceding it. This assurance proved quite unnecessary in most cases, and the results exceeded all expectations. The students, through a paradox that only the non-prejudice of youth could bring about, succeeded in grasping the art form and detached themselves from my model. Without feeling rigid about the strict rules of composing haiku, they easily interpreted the manner of discerning the unique moments in nature. The following examples, taken from many possibilities, are self-evident:
The depths of the sea
Shining like a sapphire
The shame of diamonds.
A white question mark
Bent over anxiety -
A swan on the lake.
These verse miniatures, and so many like them, renewed my confidence in the creative possibilities of students. It reminded me that pedagogic ability should always bow to the genuine values and ideals of students, and cultivate their innate beliefs, curiosities and motivations.