Thoughts On Japanese Poetry

Can we talk about
haiku? And senryu, too?
Like brothers, so close.

I figure some of you might not be in the know about such things, so I thought i’d explain so you wouldn’t zone out everytime I post haiku or, if you are in the know, say “You know, that’s really not haiku.”

Haiku is a traditional Japanese literary form consisting of 17 syllables in three lines of 5, 7, and 5. Haiku also contain a word (called the kigo) which is descriptive of the season in which the poem is set. Typically haiku combine two different images, are written in present tense, have a focused description, and have a pause at the end of either the first or second line. Each of these rules are based in Japanese language and literary tradition and while most Japanese haiku poets don’t break these rules, haiku written by non-Japanese poets almost always breaks one (or more) of them.

Senryu is similar to haiku in terms of construction, but tend to be about human nature, minor weaknesses, failing of character, etc. They are often cynical or darkly humorous and such can dispense with the nature references. In other words, that sounds right up my alley so to speak.

From a traditional Japanese, purely technical standpoint, I write senryu and call it haiku. And by doing that, I join in a long line of english poets who do the same. In fact, most of them don’t even adhere to the 17 syllable thing, opting for more of a “Take a deep breath and you should be able to finish this three-line poem” structure. At this point, I still enjoy the syllable structure, as it’s a challenge to communicate the singular thought in the best way in such seemingly limited ways.

So now that you’re in the know as to what they are and where they’re coming from, I hope you enjoy these fun little excercises in poetry thrift that I will continue to call haiku simply because I can.