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  • Publishing Sijo in an American Creative Writing Class
  • Elizabeth Jorgensen (bio)

Each semester, in Hartland, Wisconsin, I welcome 150 new high school students to my Creative Writing class with a course introduction and overview. I read intrigue, investment, and interest on their faces as I say, "My goal is for each one of you to be an award-winning or published author by the end of the semester." What follows is a curriculum focused on writers' markets and on students composing and submitting short stories, essays, and poems.

I start with a haiku, a familiar form of poetry. "Oh yes, we did this in elementary school," Sarah says. She's typing on her laptop. "Haikus have the 5-7-5 syllable form. It's a Japanese form of poetry. And they're typically about nature or the seasons." She and the rest of the class churn out haikus and submit them to various writers' markets.

"You're right. And if you can write haiku, you can write sijo." I explain sijo as haiku's lesser known Korean cousin. Students, after success with haiku, find comfort in the similarities. "And the thing about sijo is there's more flexibility—and more room to tell a story."

Looking for student writers' markets, I stumbled upon sijo a decade ago through the Sejong Cultural Society. The primers and lectures on the website taught me about sijo—and how to teach it to my students. And I knew the monetary prizes were an incentive—the [End Page 111] Sejong Cultural Society's sijo writing competition offers a $500 first place prize ($400 second, $300 third, and $50 for honorable mentions).

Connor, sitting in the front row, asks, "So, something I do in class can also win me money?"

"Yes," I tell him. "And you could also be published." I tell him about the previous winners who came from Arrowhead High School:

2016 First Place: Austin Snell2016 Honorable Mention: Abagael Weber2015 Honorable Mention: Keiagane Mork-Cardon2014 Honorable Mention: Joshua Dieball2011 Second Place: Alex Griffin2011 Honorable Mention: AJ Arshem

"I can't believe Austin won! That's so cool." We pause to read Austin's poem and talk about why we think he was chosen.

Emma by Austin SnellMy new dog, little Emma, a gift to us from the heavens.My aunt passed, stupid cancer, my mom distraught.Everyone muted.I could look into Emma's eyes, she's still here, on four paws.

Unlike typical writing classes, mine eschews rubrics and instead requires students to identify and analyze quality writing that can be used as a model. "Sijo, like all poetry, is art. And art, by nature, allows for flexibility, creativity and originality," I say. "Although this form is new to you, don't be afraid to make mistakes, to take risks, and to have fun." I want my students to write about their passions and to find purpose and pleasure in writing. I provide a lesson on the form, structure, and beat of sijo but remind my students that more significant are the story, the expressive nature, and the beauty. I review both forms—three lines and six lines—and prepare my students to write. [End Page 112]

"First and foremost, sijos are meant to be songs. What do you know about songs? Why do we listen to songs? What are some of your favorite songs about?"

Kelly says, "Songs tell a story and give off emotion … like something sad or something that pumps you up."

"Very good. How does a song portray an emotion?"

Kelly explains her favorite song and the story it tells, as well as the characters and plot. She talks about how the beat of another favorite song gets her ready for a basketball game.

Connor adds, "My favorite song has this awesome rhythm and refrain."

Because sijo is new to students, I break the sijo into parts. First, I lecture on the history of sijo: "A sijo was traditionally written in three lines on either a cosmological, pastoral, or metaphysical theme. However, as the art of sijo writing evolved, modern English-speaking authors began writing six-line sijos. Both the six-line and...