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Senryu: Posts From the Shiki List Archives

Subject: Curious about Senryu

I would like to learn more about Senryu. First: how does it differ from haiku? Most things I've read say that
senryu has the "same form" as haiku, and say that:
- Senryu shouldn't have kigo or kireji
- ... or usually doesn't have them
- ... but sometimes does (???)
- ... and some true haiku lack one or the other (!?!?)
- Senryu are lighter-hearted
- ... or flippant or satiric
- ... or vulgar
- ... or simply use more common language
- ... but so do many haiku (!?!?)
- Senryu are about people and society - usually
- ... are not about nature - usually
And sometimes even:
- Senryu are failed/"near miss" haiku (!?!?)
Could someone tell me about Senryu? or point me to good information, and
good collections? Many thanks!

Jim Mullins

Re: Curious about Senryu
From: Michael Welch

I just read Jim Mullins' post to the Shiki list asking about senryu and
thought I'd reply. Regarding haiku vs. senryu -- that's an old yet ongoing debate.
The best explanation of the grey areas is this, I think. Both haiku and
senryu can be funny, but if it's funny, it's probably senryu. Both haiku and
senryu can be about nature, but if it's about nature, it's probably a haiku.
Here's another way to distinguish them. Both haiku and senryu can be about
nature or human nature. Both haiku and senryu can be serious or
humourous/satirical. A serious poem about nature is certainly haiku. And a
funny/satirical poem about human nature is certainly senryu. It's the *other*
combinations that fall into the grey area and cause confusion. For example,
both a serious poem about human nature and a funny poem about nature may seem
to be either haiku or senryu. The point is, apart from the two types of poems
where it is *clear* whether they are haiku or senryu, the distinctions don't
really accomplish much. Just write your poems, enjoy what you write and read,
and let "critics" worry about the classification.
I should also add that, as an editor of a haiku journal and publisher of
haiku books, I'm one of those "critics" -- I also do a lot of haiku book
reviews, speak about haiku at literary conferences, give haiku workshops, and
so on. If you really need to know if a specific poem incontrovertibly IS
haiku or senryu, in some cases you'll get a difference of opinion. It's a
troublesome area, but I hope the above discussion helps clarify the matter.
May I also let you know about a senryu collection that my press published a
couple of years ago? It's called "Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go," and won a Merit
Book Award from the Haiku Society of America (and William Higginson gave it a
tremendous review in Frogpond last year). It's available for US$7.00 postpaid
to North American addresses, or US$8.75 postpaid elsewhere. Please make
checks (or interinational money orders) payable to "Michael D. Welch" and
mail to me at:
Michael D. Welch
Press Here
P.O. Box 4014
Foster City, CA 94404 USA
I have other books available of or about haiku and tanka (including
anthologies, individual haiku collections, and more). Authors include Adele
Kenny, vincent tripi, Virginia Brady Young, Lee Gurga, William J. Higginson,
Penny Harter, Sono Uchida (president of Haiku International), and others,
including myself. As for "Fig Newtons," it's one of the very few collections
of English-language senryu, and offers 111 senryu by six San Francisco area
poets, edited and introduced by myself. While senryu can be satirical and (as
Jim mentioned) even vulgar, I chose the poems in this collection for their
Another book I'd recommend reading (among many) on the subject of senryu, is
the Haiku Society of America's 1994 book, "A Haiku Path," (416 pages, 8 by 10
inches, $27.95 -- or discounted for HSA members -- email me if you need more
information). Two of the chapters in this book are about the writing and
refining of the HSA definitions for haiku and senryu in 1973, and includes
correspondence and discussion by Harold G. Henderson, Anita Virgil, and
William J. Higginson about the evolution of the HSA definitions. Very
enlightening stuff. And of course, R. H. Blyth has the most definitive
translations of haiku and senryu with his many books. I hope all this
information helps.
Michael Dylan Welch

Date: 12/1/95 7:43 PM
Re: Curious about Senryu
From: Kim Hodges <sanrensi@teleport.

I think this is a very difficult distinction. It's quite subjective.
Certainly not all failed haiku are senryu, since senryu have their
own sort of requirements. There is a lot of overlap - especially when
we are working with humor in haiku. But I think it's the quality of
the insight that is different.

> Could it be that Senryu is what smiling masters would call all the
> efforts that lead to haiku, therefore full of tentative images and
> incomplete thoughts? Like a school?
> Octavio

From what I've heard and been reading, I think senryu tend to have more
wit, even incisive wit, and perhaps social commentary. This is as opposed
to the 'haiku moment' where the interaction with nature or life should
lead to some insight, but perhaps of a deeper sort. I think it is often
considered to be easier, more superficial. Yet there is a place for it,
and sometimes one may want to do this deliberately. Of course, for most
of us - especially when we deal with humor or social settings - we aren't
sure which way we've gone.

But there is certainly humor in haiku. One of the mistakes beginners
(myself included in that) make is the idea that haiku should be self-
consciously spiritual or elevated. After reading some of the masters,
one finds they are very down-to-earth, make a point of using common
language, and are often expressing whimsical or humerous insights.
The idea here, I think, is to find meaning in the very humble and
I recall some discussions where a haiku could be on one level a senryu
and on another a haiku. On one level - it is poking fun at people.
But on the deeper level there is some insight into human relationships.

- Kim

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