When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a haiku about a burro. At the time, I was living in a small town called Big Bear, which is in the San Bernardino Mountains, about three hours northeast of Los Angeles. I lived, along with my brother and mother, at the very top of a long dirt road, two houses from the start of forest, and burros were a real concern. Anyone who knew anything about living in Big Bear knew that you had to bungee your trash lids closed, so that the burros wouldn’t get into the trash and toss it all over the road. Sometimes, even if you did bungee it, and the bungee cords weren’t strong enough, the burros would find their way in, with the same disgusting and dismaying results. Picking up moldy apple cores, used tissues, and other kinds of terrible trash before the neighbors saw was a common occurrence at our house. Either we forgot the bungees or ours were lacking in fortitude. So, when presented with the assignment in class of writing a haiku, I guess my 9/10-year old mind gravitated toward the burros and the myriad ways they often ruined my life.
My haiku, along with others I assume, was entered into a contest, and won. I remember feeling unbelievably proud . . . and surprised. Shocked, even. Shocked that someone out there had deemed my burro haiku worthy of recognition.
I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony where I would have been honored, but I did receive a ribbon and a special certificate that I do still have somewhere, buried in a box, along with my high schools yearbooks, angsty poem-filled journals, and yes, my treasured Phantom of the Opera perfume.
Ok, so how has the burro, the haiku, and the prize influenced my writing today? In some small, but important ways. First, I learned that I didn’t have to and don’t have to write poems about heartache. This might seem obvious to some of you better adjusted individuals out there, but that was frequently where my mind gravitated, even as a fourth grader. I learned that a poem about a dopey burro could serve just as well. Second, I learned I could be funny. Not that I, as a human being, could be funny, but that poetry could be funny, that it could be quirky and strange. Third, I learned that forms, like the haiku, were out there for my use and for me to bend to my will. Forms were fun; they didn’t have to be constricting. And fourth, in that year, I learned that what I did on the page, could garner me praise, attention, and recognition. And that was cool. I liked the way that felt. And though outward recognition is not what drives me to write, it does serve as a good motivator. And, as any writer knows, motivation, however you come by it, is a good thing.