Zombie Haiku

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Citation:  Mecum, R. (2008). Zombie haiku. Cincinnati, OH: HOW Books.

Overall Review: Zombie Haiku is an interesting choice at first glance. It appears to be an attempt to get teenagers to read poetry by using a common symbol that has exploded across popular culture—the zombie. It’s not only poetry, it’s haiku, one of the most overlooked and dreaded forms of poetry to many students. Haiku isn’t a form often seen in general collections of poetry or, especially, in novels in verse. It is a form that often feels unnatural when students begin to learn about and write poetry, so it is not something they often seek out to read. By using zombies as a lure, Mecum draws in new readers to the poetic form. However, it seems like an interesting choice to use haiku (a form known for dealing with the natural world) to describe an unnatural process like zombification. It could be a statement about the natural progression of society from where we are now or a twist to view haiku in a new way. Whatever the poet’s motivations, the use of haiku makes the novel a quick read for reluctant readers just looking for a quick zombie fix or for a bit of motivation and confidence in their reading abilities.

The sections resembling chapters of individual haikus are titled and they can be found in the table of contents in the beginning for ease of use. Each chapter and poem builds upon the last to tell the story of two people during the zombie apocalypse. They begin innocent and even beautiful and grow to something grotesque, morbid, and disturbing as they each loose themselves through the process. It takes the reader on an emotional journey that is as broad as it is disgusting.

The novel itself is peppered with photographs and illustrations to help the reader grasp the extremity of the transformation of the characters and to provide a human touch from the writer’s perspective as this is his journal. How the zombie continues to write in haiku is an interesting point that seems overlooked, however, that isn’t fully explained, especially when he begins losing fingers to decay and cannot remember how to open a door.

Spotlight Poem:
“The city is dead.
Streets are just filled with people
who aren’t quite people.”

While most of the poems in this novel aren’t stand-alone works, this one struck me as the one with the most potential for different levels of meaning. On the surface, it’s just a comment on the zombies taking over and outnumbering the living, but if it’s taken apart and examined, it could be much deeper than that and provide more meaning to the novel as a whole.

The fact that this poem refers to the city as a whole, what is usually a thriving, bustling center of change, progress, and experience as being dead is a striking way to begin the short exploration of humanity’s descent. This poem could easily be about looking deeper than what we see on the surface of those around us to see the struggle within that eats away at them. It could be a reference to the cancer that many view as plaguing society, eating away at our humanity until there is nothing left but death and destruction. The novel could be a metaphor for either of these themes. With the main character’s first clues about the zombie apocalypse; he saw a coworker but didn’t really see her, didn’t understand what was happening to her. He was so far removed from those around him that he didn’t see what was truly happening and how they were changing.

Take Five Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud slowly and discuss first impressions with the students.
  2. Have the students make lists of word associations for each concept (i.e. “dead,” “people,” etc.) to help find a variety of meanings in the poem and discuss.
  3. Listen to “Zombie” by The Cranberries and pass out copies of the lyrics to each student. Then, discuss the meaning of the song and how it might tie into the poem.
  4. Discuss the deeper meaning and symbolism of the zombie by having students brainstorm things they associate with zombies and what else they might mean.
  5. Re-read the poem and let the new associations and interpretations sink in for each student before having a final discussion about it.

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