Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Senryu Example - humor and parody

Senryu take their name from the poet Senryu ('river willow') one of the foremost poets and editors of the genre. Senryu are sometimes glossed as 'humorous haiku,' but they are really a different genre. In Japanese they are traditionally written as three lines of 5-7-5 syllables, but all other requirements of haiku are cast away. Senryu can be written about anything using any techniques and the human presence looms much larger. A great deal of what is published as 'haiku' in the West is actually senryu -- if it lacks a seasonal reference, if it is not a nature poem, and if it lacks the two images divided by a caesura that are the three principle elements of haiku, then it is either a failed haiku or a senryu.

Senryu is not nearly as well known in the West, probably because all short Japanese forms are lumped together under the label 'haiku,' and where senryu is known it tends to focus on humor. Regretably, this can deteriorate to the level of bumper sticker humor, which may also explain why senryu is not nearly as popular with 'real poets' as haiku is. Nonetheless, serious senryu are very much a part of the genre and have immense power of their own. Therefore, I usually prefer to say that while haiku is about nature, senryu is about human nature.

be afraid!
No Buddhists in this house!

~M. Kei

Previously published in TempsLibres (Belgium).

Buddhists are forbidden to take life, so swatting flies is definitely out of the question. Insects are a popular topic in haiku and a variety of verses sympathize with these small and humble occupants of the cosmos. This senryu is thus a parody of haiku as well as having inherent humor. And yes, parody of the more formal (critics would side hidebound and stuffy) genre of haiku has been at least as popular as haiku itself.

This is also a rare verse that straddles the borderline between haiku and senryu; the poem is about a fly and a fly is definitely part of nature. It was even published as haiku, but I regard it as senryu. The difference is very apparent in my head when I am writing them; the mindset that produces a haiku is very different from the mindset that produces a senryu. For me, haiku composes the poet, but it is the poet that composes senryu. I will not even attempt to explain what I mean by this; haiku is numinous, senryu is noumenal. Leave it at that.

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