Haiku and related forms:
This section contains haiku, senryu, a few tanka and
poems that are somewhere in the border area between
"short poem" and "haiku".
Here comes the inevitable long prosy discussion of
what the hell is a haiku anyway, etc. If the subject
interests you, dig in. I'll try to keep it short of
If not, here's the short version:
The index will lead you to haiku, haiku sequences,
senryu and tanka. The haiku is a very short poem (usually,
in Japanese, 17 syllables, often shorter in English)
in which a few words generate the sense of a universe,
a time, season, feeling, etc. The "self" or
speaker is nearly an absence through which all this
flows or a tinge of flavoring. It contains a very immediate
pointing, tends to avoid the usual poetic devices (metaphor,
simile, rhyme, meter, being poetic, puns, wit, etc.),
but impinges mainly from what is perceived and how these
perceptions relate to each other.
The haiku sequences are groups of several haiku that
relate. Either they tell a continuing story from one
to the next or they are linked to one another by some
element in common. In the linked sequences, haiku one
will have something in common with haiku two (a sensation,
emotion, subject...), haiku two will have some OTHER
element in common with haku three, etc. (In other words,
the nature of the link shifts from poem to poem.)
Senryu are haiku-sized poems that deal more with human
relations, manners, wit, philosophical observation satire,
humor, etc. Haiku can be humorous, but it's a humor
that arises in an immediate way from what is perceived,
whereas in senryu, the humor is, to a greater extent,
imposed on what is seen by the author. The distinction
between haiku and senryu is not absolute. Many poems
lie on the border. I haven't exerted myself to separate
them. In my haiku sections, you'll find many poems that
probably belong among the senryu. I've included some
poems in both sections.
Tanka is usually 31 syllables, arranged as a haiku-length
poem, followed by two 7-syllable lines. It's an older
form than haiku, freer with explicit emotion (often
used for courtship poems, for example, though none of
mine are in that vein) and elegance.
There are about 1200 poems in these sections, with
my commentary wherever I felt chatty.
Here's a slightly longer look at haiku:
Haiku are often mis-defined (in my opinion) as imagistic
poems with three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables (17 total).
The traditional Japanese haiku are often (but not always)
17 syllables long, but (as many haiku editors recognize),
17 Japanese syllables are not the equivalent of 17 English
syllables. Japanese syllables are light and simple compared
to English syllables. For example, we say "baseball"
(two syllables). The Japanese say "basuboru"
-- 4 syllables. English words with their clutches of
consonants are the equivalent of several Japanese words.
Most Japanese (unless able to speak near-accent-free
English) would pronounce frog (1 syllable) as "firogu"
(3 syllables). "Strength (1 syllable) would probably
be sitirengathu (FIVE syllables) in Japanese. Also Japanese
haiku use certain syllables to convey what in English
is conveyed by punctuation. Thus an English exclamation
point (no syllables) might use up one syllable in Japanese.
The result is that 17-syllable English haiku usually
have a crammed, padded feeling when compared to translations
of Japanese haiku. My early haiku are usually 17 syllables
long, but I soon found that I could better capture the
"feel" of haiku in 12 to 15 syllables.
Much has been written about haiku, perhaps too much.
But here's a bit more:
Haiku are brief, but not crowded. The game of writing
haiku is to say something clearly and with impingement
in very few words, but without losing the sense that
those few words come from a huge space. Haiku should
feel roomy, not as if the poet has had to make an effort
to fit everything in.
Haiku depend as much on what is not said as on what
is said. Most of the famous devices of Western poetry
(simile, metaphor, pun, rhyme, etc.) are too heavy for
haiku and drown it out. Haiku are not to be overdressed.
They are accustomed to going nude, and, like natives
of Tierra del Fuego, may get weak and ill when forced
Haiku aim, not at being poetic, but at being prior
to poetry, slightly outside of and behind poetry, instances
of the vision that is capable of poetry. They simply
point at one or two things and the juxtaposition between
them, and from them let the reader generate the entire
universe that includes the poet (pointing), the reader
and the two things and everything else. None of this
is "in" the haiku. It's just the pebble dropped
in the pond. All else is ripples.
This is true, to some extent, of any good poetry, so
that good haiku may be considered a minimalist form
of poetry, one that discards most of the devices of
One big difference between haiku and Western poetry
is that a sonnet, for example, is obviously a sonnet,
and after one sees that it is a sonnet, one can discuss
at great length whether or not it is a GOOD sonnet.
Haiku is more like Perrier Water: One concerns oneself,
not primarily with whether or not it is a good haiku,
but with whether or not it is haiku at all. ("It's
good, but it's NOT Perrier," as the commercial
had it). Given 100 17-syllable 3-line poems dealing
with nature, someone who has read and written enough
haiku to know the difference will generally find only
one or two that are haiku.
Most poems labeled "haiku" that I read are
not haiku. They say too much, get too descriptive, too
sentimental, too poetic, etc. Just my opinion, but I
think if you read around in the haiku literature, you
will find that this is the case: Far more time is spent
determining that something is or isn't haiku than in
worrying about the relative quality of two poems accepted
After all, a person could walk past you and do millions
of actions, only a few of which would amount to "hello"
and only a few of those would constitute a "hello"
that reaches you and is understood by you and conveys
to you the good will (and not just routine politeness)
and personality of the person passing you. And when
a hello is a hello and does all those things, you are
not likely to spend much time evaluating it in relation
to other real hellos. You simply respond.
Besides haiku (categorized in various ways, mainly
by topic), I have included many senryu. These are as
brief as haiku, but whereas haiku generally deal with
nature and one's relationship to it, and generally do
not deal in wit, satire, manners, etc., senryu deal
with relationships among people, social matters, wit
and humor, etc.
The distinction is not absolute. Haiku may deal with
such matters, but from a different distance, seeing
them as part of a larger, non-human universe (something
like that). Haiku may include humor (and often do),
but of a less obvious sort. I'm sure that some readers
will consider many of my haiku to be senryu and vice
I've included (because I like them) some attempts at
haiku that fail in some way, but seem to me to be pretty
good poetry all the same. I've included among the senryu
some short witticisms and sillinesses that I just happen
to get a kick out of (so probably one or two of you
will as well). In fact, I was tempted to shoehorn in
a few thousand more of my short "wit" pieces,
but decided to save them for their own section.
For a parody of haiku and some of the pretentions that
have crept into that discipline, see chapter 5 of my
book, "Please, Lord, Make Me a Famous Poet or at
Least Less Fat." I've added that chapter to this
section (see menu).
For an education in haiku, I recommend the four-volume
study called "Haiku" by R. H. Blyth. Alternatively,
get a life and write home along the way.
Coo Haiku (Chapter
5 from Please, Lord, Make Me a Famous Poet Or At
Least Less Fat, a parodic view of the inscrutable