How to Create Haiku, Haiga, Senryu, Tanka, & Haibun Poetry

How to Write Haiku in English

I love poetry and believe that if you start writing “good” poetry, it will help you to become a better creative writer. That being said, I also like rules in poetry. There must be some parameters that we follow to create our visual word poems. Otherwise, we are left with words that don’t convey a cohesive feeling or thought.

I’ve had a few questions on how to write the different poetry forms. I thought I would start with the Haiku first because it is one of the most powerful poem structures we have to express deep emotions. The brevity of the structure (5/7/5) causes the poet to choose their words carefully.

Haiku, according to “…is a Japanese verse in three lines.  Line one has 5 syllables, line 2 has 7 syllables, and line three has 5 syllables. Haiku is a mood poem, and it doesn’t use any metaphors or similes.”

Not using metaphors or similes is important because it is part of writing a Haiku in English. And, believe me, I am guilty of writing this form incorrectly, too. explains the difference lies in the number of syllables in Japanese compared to English:


“Today, many bilingual poets and translators in the mainstream North American haiku scene agree that something in the vicinity of 11 English syllables is a suitable approximation of 17 Japanese syllables, in order to convey about the same amount of information as well as the brevity and the fragmented quality found in Japanese haiku. As to the form, some American poets advocate writing in 3-5-3 syllables or 2-3-2 accented beats. While rigid structuring can be accomplished in 5-7-5 haiku with relative ease due to a greater degree of freedom provided by the extra syllables, such structuring in shorter haiku will have the effect of imposing much more stringent rules on English haiku than on Japanese haiku, thereby severely limiting its potential.”

Writing Haiku in the abbreviated forms above are allowed if you want to experiment. As a general rule, for my poetry challenges, we use the 5/7/5 syllable structure.

Most Haiku are written about nature, but not all. A Haiku should share a moment of awareness (Yes! Mindfulness figures here, too) with the reader. When you read a Haiku, it should convey emotions like peace, mystery, sadness, etc. Always include words that provoke emotions in your readers.

Kigo is a word or phrase associated with a particular season, used in traditional forms of Japanese poetry. Kigo are used in the collaborative linked-verse forms renga and renku, as well as in haiku, to indicate the season referred to in the stanza. They are valuable in providing economy of expression. is an excellent source of information on how to write a Haiku.

DON’T TELL THE READER HOW YOU FEEL – SHOW THE READER HOW YOU FEEL. Here is a PDF of the Guidelines for Writing Haiku.

Please read Sue Vincent’s post here. She shares her thoughts on writing the Japanese poetry forms.

Sue brings up excellent points about diction and pronunciation in British English vs. American English. I accept that some poets write in their native language which is then translated into English. The syllable count may be off because of the differences in language and pronunciation.

I have no problems with this. The poetry challenge was started to share our love of poetry while learning about the different forms.

Please write your poetry with your particular syllable count as close to the 5/7/5 format as possible. If you are not spot on, don’t worry. Creativity should be allowed to flourish. That works for me.


The best way to write Haiku is to commune with nature. Get up from the computer, put down your phone, and literally go outside and experience the world.

Photography and art are another way to stimulate your creative writing genes. Many times, I like finding a photograph and letting my mind wander over the image. ( is a great place to find inspirational photos that are part of the public domain and free for commercial use with no attribution required).

I write down everything I see in the picture and use my five senses to record my observations.

Let’s take this image below:

Image Credit:

Here are my observations about the picture:

Sun breaking through dark clouds

A road to nowhere

A fence to hold something in or out

Dark and light contrasts good and evil – shifting perceptions – changing my attitude

Green grasses stretch to infinity – the unknown?

Heavenly intervention? Expanding awareness

Enchanted by the vision of the light breaking through the clouds – looks magical

Next, I am going to select two of my observations that really hit me emotionally in the gut when I look at the image:

Dark and light contrasts good and evil – shifting perceptions

Heavenly intervention? Expanding awareness.

I play with the words and use I run my words through the poetry workshop at How Many Syllables to make sure I have the proper count of syllables: 5/7/5.

Here is what I came up with:

Shifting attitudes –

while your consciousness expands,

enchantment appears.

© 2017 Colleen M. Chesebro

There is one more thing I want to bring your attention to. I write my Haiku in English to form two complete sentences:

Shifting attitudes – while your consciousness expands.

While your consciousness expands, enchantment appears.

There are two different things happening in this Haiku. The first two lines are about change, and the very last line lets the reader know that in the midst of change we often find the magic in life. The last line is the pivot. That is where you show an opposite which creates a deeper meaning to your first thoughts.

Ronovan, from RonovanWrites, taught this Haiku writing technique on his blog. Please click the link to visit his blog. He offers a weekly Haiku challenge each Monday if you are interested.

Image credit:

Spread your writing wings and engage your creative engines by writing some Haiku. Join me every Tuesday on my blog for Poetry Tuesday, where you can share your Haiku, Haibun, or Tanka poetry.

How to Create Haiga Poetry

Since so many poets are inspired by photos, drawings, paintings, or other images when they compose their poetry, I wanted to add the “Haiga,” a dramatic poetic form to my weekly syllabic poetry challenge starting the first week of February 2019. So, for the new challenge posted on 2/5/19, this will be another acceptable form for our syllabic challenge.

Haiga is sometimes called observational poetry because it contains an image with either a haiku or senryu written on it or near it.  

Youtube: Traditional Japanese Art – Haiga – Japanese Paintings with Haiku poems by Doshin Kuba

This one form combines three artforms:  imagery (photographs or original art), poetry, and calligraphy.

The site, shares this about the Haiga:

“Haiga is a Japanese concept for simple pictures combined with poetry, usually meaning haiku. In Basho’s time, haiga meant a brushed ink drawing combined with one of his single poems handwritten as part of the picture.

In our day and age, haiga can be watercolor paintings, photographs or collages with a poem of any genre that is integrated into the composition. Sometimes the poem is handwritten or it can be computer generated, depending on the artist’s taste.”

(Unfortunately, the links on this site do not work, but the definition fits our use).

The site, Failed Haiku has an excellent explanation of the Haiga whose rules we will adopt for Colleen’s Weekly Poetry Challenge:

“…Well, a haiga is an image created as an artistic backdrop for a haiku/senryu, and often other Japanese forms of poetry. You can create an image in any number of ways, but the most common three are:

Traditional Haiga,  as in ink, ink wash, watercolor, oils, or tempera.
Photographic based haiga has become the most popular method recently.

Mixed Media, which can be any combination of traditional and photographic techniques, and/or computer generated images and text.

The usage of the image usually falls into at least one of the following categories:

It can convey the scene that is depicted in the poem.

In haiga, it must add something to the reader/viewer’s appreciation of the scene.

The image can create for the reader/viewer an alternative reading to the one conveyed by a literal reading of the poem.

In short, the image itself is a juxtaposition of the image conveyed in the poem. They can be used to share the emotion of the moment rendered in the poem with the reader/viewer.

There are a few hard and fast rules for creating haiga:

The haiku is the most important part and must stand alone.

In short, the poem itself must be worthy to be considered independently, before inclusion in a haiga.

Images cannot ‘complete’ the haiku.  If the image is necessary to understand the poem, then both the poem and the haiga have failed.

No matter how beautiful an image is, the poem is ‘the thing’ to trigger the reader/viewer in their appreciation of the haiga.

If all the image adds is a pretty picture of the poem, but adds no higher level of appreciation to it, then you may as well just publish the poem by itself.

The creative process of haiga:

You can write the poem first, and let it inspire the image.

The image can be created first and inspire the poem.

You can just write a poem, and have someone else create the image. (see numbers 1 & 2 above)”

Please click this LINK to read the entire post.

The website, Failed Haiku, is also a great place for you to submit your work. Follow the submission guidelines carefully. <3

In short, a Haiga is either a Haiku or Senryu poem accompanied by an image.

This is a Senryu I created a few years ago. The Senryu stands alone, speaking of the magic of fairies (of course) and how we have a tendency to not want to believe what is sometimes staring us right in the face. The “magic of fairies” is the metaphor for magic, miracles, and hope.

The image shows the fairies in the otherworld as they peek into the human realm. To me, the image itself is a juxtaposition of the words conveyed in the poem.

One more time… Here is the Senryu alone:

Fairies do belong—
in the magic of our hearts,
we run from the truth.

© 2015 Colleen M. Chesebro

Do you get a different feeling when reading the poem alone or accompanied by the image? Is there an alternative reading to the Senryu? If you’re a visual person you might view the image first and then read the poem. Remember to savor the work from different angles. You might find a different interpretation that you like better.

Just because you write your poetry with your own interpretation, doesn’t mean that we all interpret it the same way. That’s creativity! Take your time and savor and possibilities. Let the words and images speak to you!

How to Write Senryu in English


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? 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 worldbut 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.”

Image credit: 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? 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
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!”


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.

READ what the Haiku Society of America says about Haiku vs. Senryu.

How to Write Tanka in English

As many of you already know, I love structured poetry. This includes the Haiku, the Tanka, and the Haibun. I like to think of myself as a student of these poetic forms. Learning to write them correctly is an art form in itself. I think that’s what appeals to me the most, the arrangement of the syllables.

One of my favorite poetic forms is the Japanese Tanka. These poems are untitled and do NOT rhyme. A true Japanese Tanka counts thirty-one sounds because they don’t count syllables in Japanese Haiku or Tanka.

“The word Haiku, for example, is two syllables in English, but three sounds in Japanese.” (mandy’ Click on the link to learn more about the Japanese Tanka structure.

Life is likea cup of tea

For the poets who follow my weekly poetry challenge, we will follow the 5/7/5/7/7 syllable structure. Your Tanka will consist of five lines written in the first person point of view. This is important because the poem should be written from the perspective of the poet.

Also, if you wish to give your Tanka a title that is up to you. I want to follow the rules as close as possible without taking away your creative genius.

Dialect and the way you pronounce words, where you live, is important. Count your syllables as you speak the words or use the syllable counter found HERE. (

I am not the poetry police! My aim is to offer a challenge where poets can write and share their work. ❤

“Tanka (firstly known as waka during the Heian period from 794-1185 CE) which means “Japanese poem or song”, is presently known as “tanka” having been coined by Master Masaoka Shiki in the late 19th century in an effort to bring traditional Japanese poetic forms into the modern age. It is a non-rhymed nature poem consisting of 5 lines down total with a short, long, short, long, long rhythmic count. The concept of mono no aware or the pathos of existence is frequently a key element in all Japanese poetry, but particularly in tanka.

What is “Mono no Aware” or the “Pathos of Existence?

Wikipedia says:

Mono no aware (物の哀れ), literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera“, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常 mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

This phrase comes from the Japanese word mono (物), which means “thing”, and aware (哀れ), which is an expression of measured surprise (similar to “ah” or “oh”), translating roughly as “pathos”, “poignancy”, “deep feeling”, “sensitivity”, or “awareness”.

Thus, mono no aware is often translated as “the ‘ahh-ness’ of things,” life, and love. In Buddhism and in Asian culture there is the awareness of the transience of all things which heightens an appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing. That is the emotion you want to insert inside your Tanka poetry.

In his criticism of The Tale of Genji Motoori noted that mono no aware is the crucial emotion that moves readers.

Tanka in English consists of five lines which follows a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable structure. Tanka should be written in the first person as it reflects the perspective of the poet.

Don’t forget to include sensory details to your Tanka. You want your reader to feel your words with all five senses (and sometimes, their sixth sense, too). Use lyrical intensity in the first three lines of your Tanka poem. Establish the theme of your poem with your choice of words.


When writing a Tanka, the third line is considered your “pivot,” but feel free to let it happen anywhere, or to exclude it. It is not mandatory. If you do use a pivot, the meaning should apply to the first two lines, as well as the last two lines of your Tanka.

The tanka somewhat resembles the sonnet in terms of treatment of subject. Like the sonnet, the tanka employs a turn, known as a pivotal image, which begins the transition from the examination of an image to the examination of the personal response. This turn is located within the third line, connecting the kami-no-ku, or upper poem, with the shimo-no-ku, or lower poem. (Paraphrased from

“Great tanka can be figuratively read both, forward and backward.” (mandy’

The last two lines of your Tanka are where you use the metaphors or similes that complement the first three lines. Click the links and look up the meanings to these words. They are important.

Use words you are comfortable with in everyday speech. Avoid ending your lines with articles and prepositions.

Additionally mandy’ shares:

Each line of the tanka is more of a phrase rather than a sentence.  Do not begin the lines with uppercase letters, nor end the lines with a period.  Restrict your use of punctuations as far as possible.  Avoid ending each line with an article (an, an and the) or a preposition.  Articles and prepositions tend to weaken the quality of the tanka.  When you read the tanka aloud, the five lines should connect as one poem rather than detracted phrases.  Therefore rather than trying to describe the theme in five different ways, stick to a specific imagery.

Imagery and Contrast: 

The first three lines of the tanka should make up the first part of the imagery. The lines should flow and read easily.  That third line acts as a pivot, which gives shape and form to the lyrical aspect of the tanka.  In addition, it allows the reader to read the poem in the reverse order. The last two lines complement the first three.  They can be metaphors, similes or oxymoron juxtaposed in place to bring the poem to life. mandy’

Diction and Phrasing:

Use natural English.  Tanka is known for its simple, yet lyrical construction.  Avoid ending each line with articles and prepositions.  Each line should be independent phrases: the punch line at the end.  


Make use of the five main senses when writing tanka.  Rather than telling the reader that a mountain is tall and high, it might be better for you to describe it by its smell or sound.  Perhaps explain how the perfume of the fresh, lofty air beckons you climb to the top.  On the other hand, describe how the sound of the twigs crackling under your feet brings life to the mountain forests. Descriptions of sound, smell, taste, hearing and touch bring life and song to a tanka.


The best way to write poetry is to commune with nature. Get up from the computer, put down your phone, and literally go outside and experience the world.

Photography and art are another way to stimulate your creative writing genes. Many times, I like finding a photograph and letting my mind wander over the image. ( is a great place to find inspirational photos that are part of the public domain and free for commercial use with no attribution required).

I write down everything I see in the picture and use my five senses to record my observations.

Let’s take this image below:

These are my observations about the photo:

It’s autumn

Leaves of red, orange, and gold

Autumn is the dying part of the year

Summer is over

Autumn reminds me of the harvest moon

Leaves are like clothes for trees

Falling leaves signal the shedding of summer’s clothes

Harvest the bounty of the summer season

I’m sad that summer is over

First, I start developing the theme of my Tanka. In this case, it is autumn and I describe what I see.

Trees of red and gold

Shedding summer’s finery

Next, I pivot in the third line to describing how fall makes me feel:

like tears of mourning (how the dead leaves look as they fall to the ground)

The third line is where I use a simile. The next two lines directly reflect on my first observations in line one and two. Yet, the pivot line is directly related to what those trees remind me of in the last two lines.

a farewell to the summer

no end to my discontent

Here is the final product:

trees of red and gold
shedding summer’s finery
like tears of mourning
a farewell to the summer
no end to my discontent

©2019 Colleen M. Chesebro

This Tanka can be read forward and backward which reflects directly on the pivot line: like tears of mourning.

Remember the difference in writing a Tanka is that you employ the use of a simile or metaphor at the end of the poem. You don’t do that when writing a Haiku.

How to Write a Haibun in English

For Colleen’s Weekly Poetry Challenge, we will use the rules below to write our Haibun poems. shares how to write a Haibun poem. Please follow the rules carefully.

Writing Haibun

“The rules for constructing Haibun are simple.

  • Each haibun must begin with a title.
  • Haibun prose is composed of terse, descriptive paragraphs, written in the first person singular.
  • The text unfolds in the present moment, as though the experience is occurring now rather than yesterday or some time ago. In keeping with the simplicity of the accompanying haiku or tanka poem, all excessive words should be pared down or deleted. Nothing must ever be overstated.
  • The poetry never attempts to repeat, quote or explain the prose.
  • Instead, the poetry reflects some aspect of the prose by introducing a different step in the narrative through a microburst of detail.
  • Thus, the poetry is a sort of juxtaposition – seemingly different yet somehow connected.

It is the discovery of this link between the prose and the poetry that offers one of the great delights of the haibun form. The subtle twist provided by an elegantly envisaged link, adds much pleasure to our reading and listening.

Some Common Forms of Modern Haibun

  1. The basic unit of composition– one paragraph and one poem Idyll

We guide our canoe along the shores of beautiful Lake Esquagama. It is nine o’clock at night on this evening of the summer solstice. As the sun begins to dim the lake becomes still as glass. Along the shore, forests of birch are reflected in its mirrored surface, their ghostly white trunks disappearing into a green canopy. The only sound is a splash when our bow slices the water. We stop to rest the paddles across our knees, enjoying the peace. Small droplets from our wet blades create ever-widening circular pools. Moving on, closer to the fading shore, we savour these moments.

as a feather
on the breeze
the distant call
of a loon

*The prose envelope – prose, then poem, then prose

Echoes of Autumn
I walk quietly in the late afternoon chill, birdsong silent, foliage deepened into shade, a rim of orange over darkening hills.

through soft mist
the repeated call
of one crow

Reaching the gate then crossing the threshold I breathe the scent of slow-cooking, the last embers of a fire, red wine poured into gleaming crystal, the table – set for two …

**Poem then prose

(Rather than begin with a single tanka, I wrote a tanka set or sequence, followed by the prose. In contemporary haibun writing, the poems are occasionally presented in couplets or in longer groups).

The Road to Longreach
the coastal fringe
of green and blue
behind the gateway
to the outback

wheat, sorghum
and cotton stubble
in the autumn sun
as hawks patrol above

faces to the sky
the last blaze of colour
in the dryland’s
barren outlook

brown soil
of the rural strip
surrenders to
brick red, burnt ochre
of the open range

and further out –
in orange dust
a single cornstalk
displays its tassel

Days pass as we move through the desolate landscape, carved into two parts by the road we travel on, a continual ribbon drawing us straight ahead into its vanishing point, where only spinifex grass and saltbush lies between us and our destination.

***The verse envelope — poem, prose, then poem

Winter Magic
silver light
thick hoar-frost
covers the window

Ice shapes resembling small fir trees stretch across the glass, while delicate snow flowers sparkle around them. Lost in its beauty, I move through this crystal garden as my warm fingers trace up and down, leaving a smudged pathway.
Mother’s voice interrupts, “Susan, come away from that cold window and get dressed or the school bus will leave without you!”

burning hoop pine
scent of a warm kitchen
oatmeal with brown sugar

****Alternating prose and verse elements

The Sentinel
I climb round and round close to the outside wall, to avoid the railing where the stair treads narrow about their central post. A semi-circular platform rests high above. Its glass windows provide a sweeping view. Counting the last few steps, I finally reach the top of the Moreton Bay Lighthouse, where I gaze in awe at the ocean below.

the rising sun
an endless pathway
of molten gold

Outside the lighthouse, lamp is rotating. I disengage it as there is no need for its warning light. Now the bold red and white stripes of the lighthouse itself will become the beacon. I study the turbulence of the deep waters churning the rocky shore below. The subtle changes in the wind, waves, and tides are entered in my log book – these brief markers of the ever-transforming seascape that surrounds me.

ebb tide
a foot print shelters
one tiny crab”

Image credit: Writing Haibun – A Guide: offers a PDF that is most helpful in the writing of your Haibun. Download that HERE.


I reclined on the dirty sofa propped up by greasy pillows. I didn’t care. My entire reason for living existed in this room. I was ready to retreat to a place where nobody could hurt me again.

I held the long-handled pipe over the oil lamp waiting for the heat to release the vapors. I breathed in and disappeared into the verdant mist.

hedonic songs taunt
while green sylphs dance in my head
opium dreams plague
my dear snake familiars
gift a comatose release

©2019 Colleen M. Chesebro

It is important to follow the rules when writing this poetry form. It isn’t a true Haibun if you don’t follow the directions as closely as possible.

Feel free to drop me a line at if you have any questions.

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