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Your WordCrazy hostesses, Michelle O'Leary and AJ Caywood, welcome you to their blog about writing and hope you enjoy the mind-bending mania. Feel free to join in with your own brand of insanity...crazy loves company.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do You Haiku?

Recently I discovered the difference between haiku and senryu—wait, let me step back a bit. First, I saw the word senryu and thought, “What the heck is that?” Then I discovered the difference between haiku and senryu. I had no idea that senryu even existed. I was fascinated by this little piece of the world of Japanese poetry, and intrigued to find that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As an amateur haiku poet, I admit to having a great deal to learn about the mechanics and nuances of haiku creation. If you’re here looking for a lesson from a haiku master, you’ve stumbled into the wrong blog. You’re perfectly welcome, of course, but if it’s detailed, official information that you seek, there are infinitely more knowledgeable sources than me. About the difference between haiku and senryu, I found this link enlightening:

Haiku originated with the Japanese, a people that have an unbelievable talent for quiet elegance and simple majesty. Haiku revolves around the magic number 17—a traditional Japanese haiku is made of 17 characters or less. This does not translate well into Western languages, however, so when we adopted this form of poetry, we changed it from 17 characters to 17 syllables or less. I hope the Japanese people see this as a compliment—imitation being the greatest form of flattery—and are not offended that we’ve bastardized their poetry.

Both haiku and senryu are in this form, 17 characters or syllables in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 respectively. But where haiku traditionally focuses on aspects of the natural world, senryu focuses on human nature. There are nuances to both forms of poetry which govern their creation, but this is the simplest description and basic difference between them.

(Admittedly Amateur) Examples:

Singing and silence
Fill distance between lovers
Sweet feathered courtship.

My child’s smile could light
Vast rooms full of grim shadows
Joy chasing sorrow.

I’ve not ventured far into the realm of senryu, but I’m excited to learn about it and itching to practice. As a nature lover, it’s easier for me to create more traditional haikus, but challenge is good for the soul and mind. And hopefully, while I’m practicing, experienced senryu poets will be kind. If you see my senryu efforts elsewhere on the net, please don’t point and snicker.


  1. Learn something new every day! I've never heard of senryu before. I've never really "got" haiku though I do applaud those who write them.

  2. It's amazing the things you can learn--the Japanese have such an intricate culture that I'm pretty sure I don't get haiku either! But I keep tryin'... ;)
    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I can remember being introduced to haiku back in elementary school and I loved it. But I haven't written any kind of poetry since then. I just don't have the knack for it. But I do remember enjoying writing those haiku assignments in school--they were almost addicting. I've never heard of senryu either, so now thanks to Michelle, I have a little more knowledge of Japanese literature!