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  • John Simmons and Museum Collections students

Haiku to You, Too

Each spring I get to teach Museum Collections (LIS 60701) at Kent State. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the care and management of objects in museums, as well as the significance of the objects—why were they collected, how are they used, what why are they worth saving in a collection. The students do several projects using objects, and to have a little fun, at one point in the course I ask them to write about objects in the form of a Japanese haiku (a poem that has three lines consisting of five, seven, and five syllables). Over the years I have collected a number of these student-written haiku, which range from amusing to insightful to moving (I usually get very smart and creative students in my classes). Consider these* contributions from Ryan Carrig, Jessica Coulter, an anonymous poet, and Shannon Grayson:

In this object space

memories are invited

experience shared.

Old objects galore

telling stories for us all

Making history real.

Beautiful and rare

Silently tell their stories

If people listen.

Wings spread open wide

Latin names under bodies.

A moth’s history.

Some of the haiku focus on the purpose of museums and collections, such as these by Elizabeth Meinke, Mary Crotty, Jenifer Hoffman, Carlee Reed, Kaitlyn Gutshall, and Chris P. Bacon:

In the care of a

museum collection, a

living entity.

Manage collections

Place them all in a nice row.

Piece by piece by piece.

We guard our objects

because they have real value.

But who decides that?

Solving mysteries

Hidden treasures behind glass

Organize and find.

A space for objects.

Information safekeeping.

Longevity is the goal.

Blank dusty boxes.

Never knowing what it is.

Exciting, wear gloves.

A little ironic humor often helps get the point across, as in these submissions by two anonymous students,

Beth Bramhall, David Smith, and Rachel Miller:

Nowhere to store it.

Once found in someone’s closet.

No staff, no money.

Smear, scrape, splash, splatter.

Kaleidoscope colors flow.

It must be Pollock!

Salamanders sleek—

under rock habitat for

formaldehyde jars.

An exhibit hall

is where I would like to be

lost in wandering.

Look! A cabinet

full of curiosities.

Fetish or passion?

Most of the students invoke topics covered during the semester, such as these from Michelle Wall, Kelsy Voit, Valerie Howland, and Kaleigh Pisani:

Organized chaos,

Perfectly balanced entropy,

Storage at its best.

Organizing old objects

takes time and money and will

sometimes find new things.

Temples to Muses

need documents to prove that

their objects are true.

Acute poisoning

A white powder from the elk.

Arsenic—I’m sick!

Jared Dalton reflected on a wall he saw at the National Museum of the Marine Corps that bears 6,822 military service emblems representing the individuals killed in the battle of Iwo Jima:

Silent witness borne.

Emblems reflecting ghosts stare.

Wars cost, paid in full.

In addition to being a change of pace for the students, the haiku writing exercise also allows me to glimpse how the students are processing the information provided in the course. Although at times I despair for museums as I watch funding sources shrink and institutions fail, teaching the class always renews my faith in their future. Working with museum studies students, I know that museums are going to be staffed by a new generation of professionals who are much better trained for the job—and much better equipped to critically evaluate their institutions—that past generations were. I will let Walter Lang, Ryan Buenaflor, and Karen Gath-McClain have the last word:

I put these things here.

Contemplate them if you will

And know I did too.

Ancient artifacts

flood senses and emotions—

simply numinous.

Myriad objects

Forgotten and found in time.


*All students gave permission to share their poems.