Make Visible: Focus on Form: Senryu
Welcome to Focus on Form. For the next three weeks, we poets will be writing a poem in the same form and sharing it here on the blog.
My first experience with Senryu poetry was when I posted what I thought was a Haiku and was told it was Senryu instead. It’s a Senryu because it includes a man-made object (my glasses), even though it’s about the weather; and also because of its sarcastic tone.
The June rain
Leaves drops on my glasses
I can’t see summer from here.
June 7, 2008
© 2008 Anne Westlund
Senryū (川柳?, literally ‘river willow’) is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 or fewer total morae (or “on“, often translated as syllables, but see the article on onji for distinctions). Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious. Unlike haiku, senryū do not include a kireji (cutting word), and do not generally include a kigo, or season word.
Senryū is named after Edo period haikai poet Senryū Karai (柄井川柳, 1718-1790), whose collection Haifūyanagidaru (誹風柳多留?) launched the genre into the public consciousness. A typical example from the collection:
泥棒を dorobō wo
捕えてみれば toraete mireba
我が子なり wagako nari
when I catch,
my own son
(Excerpted from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senryu)
The first step to writing Senryu poems is to think of a theme and what message is to be conveyed. Taking ideas from family life and experiences with friends and coworkers is a good place to start.
Once the theme is established, the next step is to begin jotting down ideas and phrases. Build on those ideas until they form three lines and add up to 17 syllables or less. Senryu poetry seems easy to write but in actuality it is not easy to convey a complete message in three short lines.
The first line should set up the setting, and the subject should be the focus of the second line; the third line should use action to sum up the poem. This is a simple way to approach writing Senryu. With more practice and reading examples the writing process will become more natural.
One thing to remember when writing this form of poetry is that it is not complex. Senryu uses simple language and incorporates humor. Here are a few more examples written by modern poets:
As if it were spring
the green mold
on the cheese
© Garry Gay
the blonde in the Porsche peels
(excerpted from How To Write Senryu Poetry by Sarah Carter, http://www.howtodothings.com/hobbies/how-to-write-senryu-poetry)
Give it a try! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the Poetic Muselings come up with.
“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”~Robert Bresson, French Film Director
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