senryu

Observations on senryu

 On this web site we will attempt to show the distinction between haiku, senryu and other genres of short poetry, as they all deserve their due and and are enjoyable in their own right.

 Where a lot of short poetry today is lumped together under the moniker of haiku, I believe distinctions should be made, based on the original (Japanese) definitions of the different styles and forms. I will try to make some of the differences clear between haiku and senryu, hopefully contributing to better understanding, more enjoyable reading and ultimately leading to better writing of both genres. 

 First off, classical senryu is constructed from the same the same 3 lines and 17 or fewer syllables or sounds (on) as haiku. In modern English versions there are less restrictions in this physical form and much debate and experimentations going on, which we shall discuss elsewhere in time. 

 Haiku references a season (kigo) and uses a cutting word (kireji), where senryu does not necessarily and thus is less restrictive in its construction. Of course there are gray areas and overlaps and the mere presence of a kigo and kireji does not make a senryu into haiku.

The major difference between the two lies in it's content and target:

 Haiku is composed of direct observation of nature, and spiritual in nature; for more detail, I refer you to Svetlana's eloquent observations in the articles "what is haiku?" and "the creative act - writing a haiku"  
 Senryu can be more abstract and intellectual in its imagery and describes human foibles and follies. Human activity rather than nature dominates in senryu.


 "Senryu is a stringent little study of man, a complete statement capturing human behavior with the incisive stroke of caricature. Unlike the haiku which develops out of indirection, the more typical senryu goes for the jugular…… Haiku have often been accurately likened to a pebble tossed into still water producing ever-widening rings. The senryu is like a pebble tossed which hits you smack between the eyes! ….. There are no sacred cows! There is only honesty—even if it hurts. Senryu reckons with sentimentality, with what is less than honest, with hypocrisy, cutting it all down to size with the razor-sharp blade of humor." *

 With that in mind, I find senryu can be the perfect outlet for wit, sarcasm, irony, political- or religious humor, absurdism, etc… not to mention love, sex and eroticism. It can lay bare the soul in an honest and direct way, while engaging the reader and making him think, in much the same way as haiku, but following a different, perhaps more obvious path. Personally I do not think either path is superior to the other, and I much enjoy both, reading as well as writing them. Where lies your preference?

 Finally in trying to determine, whether a poem you wrote is haiku or senryu, you may try submitting it to the following test:
“Simplistically speaking, if it is man within the world, it is haiku. If it is the world within the man, it is senryu.” 
[Anita Virgil, One Potato Two Potato Etc (Forest, Va. Peaks Press, 1991)]

 I welcome any discussion or expansion on this subject, as I don't exactly consider myself an expert by any measure.

* from Senryu by Anita Virgil

Simply Haiku: Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry ~ Feature

Ted