Senryu or Haiku: That Is the Question – July 16, 2014

queen bee picks her drone
guided missiles are drones too
but them’s money bees

Now I don’t think anyone could mistake the above for a haiku … it’s pure satire and not what I’d usually write.  Senryu (川柳?, literally ‘river willow’) has been around a long time … even before haiku, which before Shiki was considered a fragment of a renga, which is a communal poem, that fragment was often called a hokku or haikai.

Senryu on the other hand, has often been disparaged as not being proper poetry at all, by the more “serious” haiku poets.  It was often written spontaneously or for money as a comedy relief at parties.  Now days senryu has also taken up social protest and other more dark aspects of mundane life and has become very serious stuff.

 bees hum softly
orange blossoms perfume the air
children play tag

That was obviously a haiku.  It has the seasonal words (kigo) the pivot which then takes us to the kireji, the cutting word or phrase which changes our direction and is a sort of punctuation, and which I’m not very good at by the way 😉 , on the other the Japanese have whole dictionaries of kigo and kireji of which the later are nearly without translation, being sounds like “No” or “Ya”.  In fact much could be said about trying to write faithfully following rules which were created for a language so completely different from our latin based languages. (By the way, the first and last line should be interchageable according to some schools.)

After the Shiki revform, haiku left the realms of mysticism for many haiku poets writing about nature in the place of religion, Shiki being an atheist and not partial to writing about religious thought.  He felt that haiku should be about the everyday aspects of nature in our lives:

He favored the painterly style of Buson and particularly the European concept of plein-airpainting, which he adapted to create a style of haiku as a kind of nature sketch in words, an approach called shasei (写生), literally ‘sketching from life’. Wikipedia

Haiku should be a splash of life … like a pebble in a pond, a concentrated image, without comment by the poet and in the present tense and without rhyme.

The English speaking community who’ve introduced haiku and senryu to the West, have often been very polemical among themselves as to just how many syllables should be in a haiku …  some will also get upset, for example,  if one uses the “I” or “ego” in a haiku.  I’ve read extensively and found for the most part one can become very confused very easily.

From my point of view, the day I can speak and write Japanese, I will enter the controversy … in the meantime, I look to those who write better than I do and try to glean just what makes that little gem they’v written so beautiful, and try to write something equally beautiful.

Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie – Heeding Haiku with Ha

19 thoughts on “Senryu or Haiku: That Is the Question – July 16, 2014

  1. That senryu is really good. It is wonderful that you shared the info as well. All the poem forms which are devised from other language tend to become a source of conflict among the poets because the languages vary on certain matters from one another. And I find it interesting… how haiku was given a more serious note in the west.
    To that matter, I like the haiku by Jack Kerouac. They have a human connection to them… which I find sometimes missing when it comes to reading the “pure” English haiku.


  2. I’ll admit that I’d mistake it for a haiku. One thing I’ve realized is that when we’re taught haiku in Elementary School over here, it’s only the syllable count. We’re not told about the tone or needing nature in it. This might just be my education though. In 3rd or 4th grade, we had a week of learning poetry. Each day was a different style. Free form, limerick (we loved this one), rhyming, one I don’t remember, and then the ‘haiku’. Since we were kids, the topics were whatever we wanted. This is probably why most of us wrote senryu and grew up to never know the difference. I guess the goal was to create an interest or respect for poetry instead of getting into the specifics. Anyway, this could probably explain some confusion that people have between the two. Simply weren’t taught the difference.


    • When I was in school something similar happened. No season words, no nature … the idea was write a tiny three line poem and you had a haiku. It’s only been in the past year when I got into Japanese poetry that I realized there was a little more to it than that. It’s a fascinating form … and I’m also fascinated in gerneral with how they distiguish one form or another by its content. So though structurally you may be writing a “tanka” because of its content it becomes a “kyoka” … I’m far from being an expert and each time I come up against one of these posts I learn more. Basically though, I don’t think elementary teachers know much about haiku … and a lot of poets don’t either. Of course you needn’t worry unless someone in Windemere is going to try to enchant with one … and you have your console that creates “haiku” 😉


        • You know, I couldn’t say .. there are a lot of forms outside of ours that I’ve never tried … I think maybe the classic Chinese might have had something similar … remember the Japanese “borrowed” a lot of their written language, early poetry etc. from them. i don’t think WE have anything similar outside of our imitation of the Japanese poetry forms.


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