f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

July 23, 2004

senryu is not a typo

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 8:58 am

Senryu” is poetry that is structurally similar to haiku, but primarily concerned with human nature; it is often humorous or satiric.  Senryu can be particularly enjoyable for lawyers and other city folk — who are frequently far more attuned to human foibles than to nature’s essence. See the senryu webpages compiled by Ray Rasmussen for several definitions and explanations, plus examples and relevant links.

  • Author/poet Jane Reichhold of Aha Poetry has noted: “Because haiku and senryu are written much alike, often on the same subjects and usually by the same authors, great controversies have ensued over which is what.”  Anita Virgil has artfully stated the difference in her book “one potato, two potato” (Peaks Press, 1991):  “… if it is man within the world, it is haiku. If it is the world within the man, it is senryu.”
  • Some distinguished haiku publications continue to differentiate between haiku and senryu; others no longer do.   Also, check out “Haiku or Senryu? How to Tell the Difference,” by Elizabeth St. Jacques.
  • Click here, to see the Collection of winning senryu from the Haiku Society of America’s annual Gerald Brady Memorial Senryu Contest.
update: In 2005, Simply Haiku magazine added a special senryu
section, which will now appear in every edition.  It is edited by poet
Alan Pizzarelli.  In his Editor’s Introduction, he says:

“. . .  It portrays the characteristics of human beings and psychology of the human mind. Even when senryu depict living things such as animals, insects, and plant life, or when they depict inanimate objects, they are portrayed with the emphasis on their human attributes.

“The senryu can make use of poetic devices such as simile, personification, and metaphor. It can also employ puns, parody and satire. . . . Senryu are not all strictly intended to be humorous. Many senryu express the misfortunes, the hardships and woe of humanity.”

update (May 2005) : See our “is it or ain’t it haiku?” to learn more about the
haiku genre and how it differs from senryu and various forms of “quasi-haiku”.

George Swede has written some of my favorite senryu.  Here are a pair:  diner dude gray

young widow

asks for another

fortune cookie

alone at last
I wonder where
everyone is
(Brooks Books, 2000)

dad’s armchair
is 20/40
………… by dagosan [7-17-04]


  1. Here is an original senryu about lawyers:
    lawyers take lunch
    with a side order
    of scruples
    This was written because of an ancient practical joke we used to play at upscale restaurants. After placing our order for a meal, we would ask the waitress if she could bring us “a side order of scruples” along with the entree. Often we would get a reply something like: “this restaurant doesn’t have scruples.”

    Comment by Arlene Teck — February 17, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

  2. More about scruples:
    Once we had occasion to take a meal in the dining room of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. It was June. The waiters and waitresses all were hotel students, doing summer internships. We asked our waiter if he could bring a side order of scruples, along with dinner. The young man said he didn’t know, but would ask the chef.
    A few mminutes later, a torrent of yelling erupted from the kitchen, so loud it could be heard throughout the dining room. Shortly afterward, our waiter returned and told us the chef had said that scruples were out of season just now. No letter “R” in the month, we supposed.
    While you might be careful about asking your waiter for scruples, you can ask a druggist. The scruple is an apothecary weight.

    Comment by Arlene Teck — February 18, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

  3. –Author/poet Jane Reichhold of Aha Poetry has noted: “Because haiku and senryu are written much alike, often on the same subjects and usually by the same authors, great controversies have ensued over which is what.” Poet Alan Pizzarelli has artfully stated the difference: “… if it is man within the world, it is haiku. If it is the world within the man, it is senryu.” —
    escaping from the hothouse
    gardenia scent
    escaping from the whorehouse
    gardenia scent

    Comment by Arlene Teck — February 18, 2007 @ 6:03 pm

  4. I had never heard of Senryu before.

    Does anyone know why it’s not taught nation-wide in schools?

    Comment by Utah Guru — November 19, 2008 @ 11:27 am

  5. Hello, Guru. That’s a good question. I think it’s still rare for haiku to be taught at the high school level, where students might find senryu to be very interesting. When schools teach haiku to very young pupils, they very often get it wrong; if the teacher has ever heard of senryu, he or she might consider the subject of human nature to be a difficult concept for the very young to understand.

    If you want to follow up on this issue, you might contact Johnette at Two Dragonflies, who has a lot of information about teaching haiku to children. Find it here

    Comment by David Giacalone — November 19, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  6. That “artfully stated difference between haiku and senryu” attributed here [in 3.] to Alan Pizzarelli actually was written by Anita Virgil. It is the last line from her Introduction to her collection of haiku and senryu in “One Potato Two Potato Etc” (1991) Peaks Press.

    Comment by Anita Virgil — February 24, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  7. Anita, Thank you very much for this correction, and please accept my sincere apology. I’ve made the change above. I wish you or others more steeped in haijin lore than I had noticed it five years ago, when I first posted this page. I found the quote here, from an Interview by Al.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 24, 2009 @ 9:06 am

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