How to Write a Senryu Poem in English

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Senryu poems are written much the same as a Haiku poem in English. Senryu takes the form of three nonrhyming lines written in a 5/7/5 syllable count written in the present tense. At this point, I can hear your thoughts…

So, what’s the difference between a Haiku and a Senryu?

Penandthepad.com states:

“Many traditional senryu focuses on awkward romances, confused children and other scenes that allow the poet to poke fun at human nature. One poet writes of a child searching for his shoes, unable to find them because they are on his feet. Another poet writes of a man squinting to read the word “optician.”

The object of this form is to offer the image of a human in action, doing something relatable, familiar, ironic or even embarrassing. When writing senryu, you could choose moments from your own life that have caused you, or others, to giggle.

Perspective and Tone

Senryu poems do not explore human nature by looking outward at the natural world, but makes the human, not the world around him, its subject. As might be expected from a poem that was first achieved through teasing and game-playing, the tone of the senyru is always humorous, sometimes even sarcastic.

The condensed, simple language and the accessibility of haiku is also present in senryu, and when writing these poems, you must be direct and explicit. Above all, you must aim to make people laugh.”


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Shadowpoetry.com explains:

“Senryu (also called human haiku) is an unrhymed Japanese verse consisting of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables (5, 7, 5) or 17 syllables in all. Senryu is usually written in the present tense and only references to some aspect of human nature or emotions. They possess no references to the natural world and thus stand out from nature/seasonal haiku.”

STILL CONFUSED?

Startag.tripod.com offers an excellent explanation of the differences between a Haiku and a Senyru:

“George Swede of Toronto, Ontario, who co-founded Haiku Canada in 1977 and active in the international haiku community, provides the clearest and most logical answer I have found. After studying haiku types, he came to the conclusion that English-language haiku consist of “three content categories”: Nature haiku, Human haiku (senryu), and Human plus nature haiku (hybrids). Examples follow each of George’s astute findings:

Nature haiku have no reference to humans or human artifacts and often have season words or kigo. They are what people typically assume haiku to be and comprise only around 20% of published work (in the best periodicals and anthologies).”

from wet clay
where no seed will grow
the worm
   – Elizabeth St Jacques


glaring like a snake
in the grass   the snake
in the grass
   – George Swede
Midsummer dusk:
  after the coo of doves
a softer silence
   – H.F. Noyes

Season words in the above: “seed” refers to Spring; “snake” indicates Summer, and “Midsummer” speaks for itself.

George points out that his poem “has humor, yet it is a haiku and not a senryu. In other words, humor cannot be used to distinguish between haiku and senryu because both types can have humor or not.”

You’ll also note that “like a snake” is a simile. While similes (and other poetics) are frowned upon by many editors, this one works because of the delightful humor it evokes. Less experienced poets, however, would be well advised to avoid poetics until they gain more haiku experience.

Human haiku (more often called senryu) include only references to some aspect of human nature (physical or psychological) or to human artifacts.
They possess no references to the natural world and thus have no season words. (Human haiku) comprise about 20-25% of published work.”

at the height
of the argument  the old couple
pour each other tea
   – George Swede
long commuter ride
a stranger discusses
his incontinence
   – Francine Porad
billboard:
the black hole
in her Colgate smile
   – Elizabeth St Jacques

George advises you to notice there are no references “to the natural world (excluding humans, of course). In (his senryu), tea is a human artifact.”  Why? Because a person has transformed the tea into a refreshment.

Human plus nature haiku (or hybrids) include content from the natural as well as the human world (and) often include kigo. They are the most frequently published kind of haiku–around 60%.”

his wife’s garden:
certain he has moved
every plant twice
   – Francine Porad
cold wind:
into the strawman’s mouth
the quick little mouse
   – Elizabeth St Jacques
in the howling wind
under the full moon
the snowman, headless
   – George Swede

“Garden” and the act of transplanting indicate late Spring or early Summer; “cold wind” and “strawman” suggest Autumn; and “howling wind” and “snowman” imply Winter. George points out that “the snowman is a human artifact” — as is “strawman” in my haiku. Also, note the humor in Francine’s haiku.

Of course, when submitting work to editors, most poets don’t bother to indicate haiku or senryu, but let the editors decide. Nevertheless, it’s to your benefit to learn how to tell the difference between these genres, if only for competitions that demand differentiation.

Now that you know how to do that, it’ll be a snap to sort out your haiku and senryu and submit them to the correct categories of poetry competitions. Happy sorting and the best of luck!”

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For purposes of Colleen’s Weekly poetry challenge, we are going to try and follow these rules (there will be no judging). Although the traditional rules call for no title, if you wish to give your Senryu or Haiku a title for the purposes of your blog, please do. Do your best, and realize that some Haiku and Senryu will cross over into the hybrid zone.

A Senryu is written about love, a personal event, and have some sort of irony present.

A Haiku is written about seasonal changes, nature, and change in general.

So give a Senryu poem a try. Have fun!

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