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Types Of Poem Forms - Japanese Senryū Poems 川柳

Updated on February 12, 2012

While many will debate the delicate differences between a Japanese Haiku and a Japanese Senryū (also known as the Human Haiku) fixed poem form, and point out that it’s clear that the Senryū is a later deviation or progression of the Haiku -- the fact is the most important difference is “subject matter” -- and in this case “subject” matters a lot.

The Haiku tends to be about nature, whereas, the Senryū is about “human” nature especially when it comes to human shortcomings. Along with that there are many Japanese with the opinion that Western Haiku writers tend to write Senryū authors than Haiku authors simply because of our lack of understanding the true intent of the Haiku:

Other differences are:

  • Senryū poems can be skeptical
  • Senryū poems can be darkly witty
  • Senryū poems do not include kireji (cutting words)
  • Senryū poems do not revolve around seasonal matters
  • Senryū poems often deal with social subjects
  • Senryū poems can be lighthearted
  • Senryū poems often are ironic
  • Senryū poems often are “all-knowing”
  • Senryū poems can deal with idealistic subjects

There are very few rules for the Senryū:

  • Express a single word picture of a moment in time of discovery or enlightenment
  • Do not pass human judgments, observations, or interpretations of the single word picture
  • Think in terms of seventeen syllables (not the 5-7-5 model commonly taught) but remember that rule is not rigid
  • You will see Senryū poems written as three lines (traditional) and as a single line (modern)
  • Use of personal pronouns is OK
  • Punctuation is OK
  • Keep it pure by allowing the reader to see whatever they want within the Senryū

Artist: Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Japan, Japanese Woman, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Artist: Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Japan, Japanese Woman, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The Senryū And Women

Over time (approximately two-hundred and fifty years), the Senryū has delightfully progressed into the ultimate darling favorite form of “Women’s poems.” My favorite quote about this fixed poem form is by a woman named Ito Masajo from around the turn of the last century:

“A woman experiences frustrations as an old woman, a little girl, a bride, a second wife, and a widow. She must capture such weaknesses in her Senryū.”

Here is one of her many Senryū:

"Cupid often runs out of arrows and is lost." -- Ito Masajo

Anyway, there were a number of female only Senryū writer associations that have sprung up for generations, often with a focus such as:

  • Anti-war
  • Husbands who are dying
  • Buddhism
  • Daily ups and downs of married life

Some of the modern married life Senryū poets ignored what we call the syllabic count and used punctuation. Those Senryū poets who do so are sometimes accused of being "one line poets" or "one-liners."

Old Married Woman's Senryū

Over the years, the Senryū poem form has become one of my favorite poem fixed forms. The reason is that it lends itself to being a wonderful way to pass time and de-stress. The Senryū is short enough for the mind to contemplate and write just about anywhere and anytime. I find it very relaxing, better than counting sheep when trying to sleep, and as any married woman soon discovers a good form of quietly poking fun at our beloveds who sometime drive us crazy.

I have this little black book of Old Married Woman's Senryū that I've secretly kept thru forty-three years of marriage (to three different husbands). Let's just say that it saved my sanity and kept me out of trouble, since writing a Senryū poem was an alternative to saying things that would have caused discord. Here are some excerpts from over the years:

  • Freight train sleeping in my bed, dreaming pillow on his dead head.
  • Food for four devoured by one, still he always asks is there more?
  • Bald man combing hair for over an hour, never dare ask why.
  • TV remote in his hand, snoring, Hey I was watching that!
  • Checking for light leaks in his head, grand kid thought he was dead.
  • I slip, hide, and smile - from beneath his bear hug strangle - on my side of bed.
  • Naked giant in - glowing light of frosty box - growls at emptiness.
  • Hair ran away south - thru the back door down his neck - shiny crown left behind.
  • Gallons of tears over the years - filled the lonely - of her bitterness well.
  • Anger spills careless - with the barb of my tongue - undoing sweetness.
  • He leaves I dance - the happy solitude jig - of time to be me.
  • Retirement of man - the kitchen is always open - woman's enslavement.
  • Whale rolling rolling - waves of blankets gone ashore - leaving wife adrift.
  • Lying close together - two peas in the same wrong pod - waiting for death's unshell.
  • Auto parts in my sink - soaking in gasoline stink - want to poison drink.

Excerpts from Old Married Woman's Senryū by Jerilee Wei © 2011

Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Japan, Women,  Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi - Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Japan, Women, Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi - Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Examples of Senryū Female Authors To Explore

"Keeping quiet she is inside all sorts of partitions" -- Yoshida Shigeko

"I plant a cactus in my eyes and give up" -- Miura Ikuyo

"Dangling from a liar's throat an emergency exit" -- Miura Ikuyo

"You walk you run and you're still on the earth" -- Kondo Toshiko

"So I hate him to the very end I dress to kill" -- Usi Kanojo

I'm in the shadow of countless prostitutes -- Kodama Yoshiko



Comments

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    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks shea duane! It was a fun one to write.

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 

      6 years ago from new jersey

      Another wonderful teaching hub. Thank you.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks geetbhim! No problem.

      Thanks prasadjain! True, but there are subtle differences that are important.

    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 

      6 years ago from Tumkur

      This is a useful article. I knew about Haiku,but not about these, which can be considered as a deviated form of haikus.But, just,glance-many of these appear like good quotation lines in prose,not of poetry.

    • geetbhim profile image

      sangeeta verma 

      6 years ago from Ludhiana India

      Thanks for giving such a detail difference between haiku and senryu.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Senoritaa! The differences are small and great. :D

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for outlining the differences between Haiku and Senryu. Very helpful hub.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Ginn Navarre! This poem form is a lot of fun. Love you.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 

      6 years ago

      Your excerpts out of that little black book are perfect---loved it & love ya.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks irenemaria! It is kind of a fascinating world.

      Thanks rjavity1! I envy you, I wish I had studied the language years ago when I had the perfect chance.

    • jravity1 profile image

      jravity1 

      6 years ago from bellevue, MI

      Your senryus were great, thank you, great hub. I am currently learning Japanese and about there culture so this was very enlightening.

    • irenemaria profile image

      irenemaria 

      6 years ago from Sweden

      I feel like peeking into a new world

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Ruchira! There are so much fun!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 

      6 years ago from United States

      Wow..thank you for introducing me to these various forms of poetry.

      Loved it!

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Tom Rubenoff! I've learned so much doing these two series on poem forms and remembering what I thought I'd forgotten.

      Thanks WannaB Writer! My thought was showing your own work allows others to realize they can write them too.

      Thanks AudreyHowitt! I try.

      Thanks RedElf! Sometimes one line is all you need.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 

      6 years ago from Canada

      What a marvelous introduction to a fabulous form - my new favorite. "One line poets" indeed!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Best explanation of Senyru I have ever seen--thank you!

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Yet another form I've not heard of. I love the way you share your own work in each form you share. Voted up and interesting.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      My fave so far:

      Gallons of tears over the years - filled the lonely - of her bitterness well.

      I love learning new things - especially about poetry. Thank you!

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