Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All


In the book, Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All, which was kindly sent to me to review, the poet-author-teacher Charlotte Digregorio conversationally discusses these two favored forms as one who avidly reads, writes, and teaches other poets and poetry students. One chapter even addresses “Teaching Haiku and Senryu” with practical suggestions and checklists non-teachers will also welcome.

While most of us might not be leading classes on syllabic verse, this book gives us a deeper appreciation of two minimalistic yet highly expressive and impressive forms. In the first chapter, for example, we learn:

“Haiku are from the heart, and they can touch the reader by evoking any type of emotion, from sadness to happiness. Effective haiku is thoughtful, insightful and intuitive, and it captures the moment.” To do this, “it must be written in the present tense.”

The present helps us to “show, not tell,” thereby engaging the senses as we write, so our readers can experience the moment with some of the wonder we felt or the beauty we noted in as few words as possible.

Traditionally, haiku has three lines with 5/7/5 syllables per line, respectively, which some poets and I still prefer as a unique challenge for combining imagery and musicality. However, many other American poets use a 4/6/4 syllabic count or 3/5/3, which “may yield more lightness and flow to the poem.”

Reading each draft of your poem will help you to hear which you prefer. Also, omitting “words that reveal too much of the meaning,” deleting adjectives, and cutting unnecessary articles such as “the” or “an” may reduce the size of your poem while compressing content.

The same principles work well for senyru too, which focuses on human nature rather than the seasonal elements and natural environments of haiku. Both forms can amuse, but “Senryu should always be light and playful humor – not insulting or offensive. It can even be satirical.” For example:

“Season’s Greetings” …
braggart’s annual letter
fuels the yule log


Charlotte Digregorio

Senryu and haiku rely on strong verbs and nouns with “a reason for each word that is used.” Nothing abstract or redundant works in poems where every character counts. This compression, along with an “understated element, which is typical of senryu and haiku, makes the poem powerful.”

If, though, you prefer more lines to express an insight or retain a fleeting moment, the chapter on “Haiku and Senryu Sequences” offers these tips:

“A haiku or senryu sequence is a series with a certain theme or tone. You can take a theme and look at it from various perspectives. While individual haiku and senryu have no titles, sequences do.”

The poems in a sequence can build on one another or follow “a chronology of moments that you have captured. The poem should, of course, move forward smoothly and effectively through its imagery” as do the examples presented throughout this highly recommended book.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, author, reviewer, © 2016


Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All, paperback






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