Haiku, Senryu, Tanka

        Beneath the gray sky
        red apples glow on the branch
        ravens feast - no blood

        Night sea, dark water
        air so calm stars shine twice -
        as above, below

        On night's surface sea
        is a world of liquid light -
        hunger waits below

        spring sky wide open -
        curved stick thrown high into blue
        but gravity wins

Haiku & Senryu

Haiku and senryu have the same form - a syllable count of 5-7-5. So what makes something a senryu instead of a haiku? The strict view of haiku is that they must:

    be about nature (which apparently doesn't include humans) - no persons or personal pronouns
    use direct language literally describing something seen--no similes, no metaphors, no other 'figures of speech'
    contain (usually in the first line) an indication of the season or time, an actor, and an action
    no personifications - animals thinking human thoughts or talking, that sort of thing
    make the reader suck in his breath because something about the "sight" is so beautiful or so poignant or so profound that it clutches his heart. (This is certainly the hardest bit - the "leap to God" - and often missed! )

Some Western haikuists have decided that the 5-7-5 form is bad and doesn't fit in English. Um. Well. I disagree with their reasoning and conclusions. Haiku are like a game, and I don't feel that rewriting the rules of a game is quite fair. The whole point of any game is winning within the rules.

A senryu, as far as I understand, means that it doesn't follow those rules but is still the 5-7-5 form. Senryu may also be funny or sarcastic, rather than making that "leap to God." There may be more to them, but this is what I remember! I'd have liked to have put a senryu or two here, but I seem to have mislaid all mine and not be able to think of any just now. Doubtless, I shall be back with some another day.


The most I can tell you about tanka is that they have, like haiku and senryu, a 5-7-5 syllable count - and then they have an additional two lines of 7 syllables each. Doubtless there are other rules as well, but I don't know what they are, and I haven't been able to find anyone to tell me. So I just make up my own, which basically is not to have any. This seems like cheating, and probably is.

        Life as a Mirror

        The mirror is large -
        so big no edge is in sight.
        Nose bumps glass everywhere.

        Be still. Breathe on it. It clouds.
        Once seen, nose need not be bruised.

        Running Away

        Among falling leaves,
        the young black bear runs uphill,
        startled by a blue jay.

        He dodges what cannot hurt,
        blunders into things that do.

        Forest Fire

        In the summer sky,
        a single fiery leaf lifts
        above burning trees.

        Conflagrations will begin
        anywhere it falls to earth.

Copyright © 2001 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Your comments will be read with interest.