Sunday, July 18, 2021

Writers' Pantry #79: The Latest on the Shortest

... or the latest I'm aware of, anyway.
Hello again, dear wordsmiths. 

I promised you some time ago that you wouldn’t entirely lose the Friday features you used to like, which we discontinued in that format. This post, I guess, is a cross between the old  ‘Moonlight Musings’ and ‘Roving the Web’, with a bit of ‘I Wish I’d Written This’.


Whether you enjoyed or were challenged by Magaly’s invitation to micro-writing last Wednesday – or both (I was both!) – I guess we can all agree that haiku/senryu are the shortest of the lot. In modern practice, they don’t even have to be 17 syllables (whereas an American Sentence must).

As a post-script to Magaly’s prompt, I’ve been finding out all sorts of stuff while roving the web, which might interest you too.


I had been thinking of senryu as a kind of poor cousin to haiku. I understood that senryu are often humorous or satirical, or even downright rude, and are about people in particular, whereas classical haiku are supposed to be about (any other aspect of) Nature in general.

Then I started reading about Issa, one of the acknowledged great haiku masters, and re-reading his haiku too. He loved to write of human nature as much as other kinds. Indeed, his haiku on other parts of Nature often highlight or comment on aspects of human nature, by inference. He endeared himself to readers in his Japan, and to many of his current readers too, by his fellow-feeling with the common people rather than the rich and powerful.

Meanwhile I discovered two facebook sites which showed me that senryu have quite a following in their own right. One is the group Senryu Circle, described as ‘The Home of English Senryu! … a place that EXCLUSIVELY supports senryu … to provide senryu a space to continue and grow.’ Members can post senryu they admire, as well as their own.

The other is Failed Haiku, a page for an e-journal of the same name, subtitled, ‘a journal of English Senryu’, which has just published its 67th issue. 


Failed Haiku


The fb page has news of the latest journal issues and so forth. The web site is an even more interesting read. One of the journal editors, Mike Rehling, says, on its About page:

Many years ago, at a haiku meeting, someone asked me what my definition of a senryu was, and I said: “It is just a failed haiku is all.” It was a flip answer, not particularly literary, but I have grown to like it for both its brevity and its lack of preciseness, both of which fit the spirit of senryu perfectly.

They may be failed haiku, but they are not bad haiku! (Even if they are senryu, lol.) Issue 67 includes these recent contest winners:

First Prize
how white the shirt
of the rapist
Arvinder Kaur

Second Prize
first cry . . .
I too am born
a mother
Agnes Eva Savich

Third Prize
white privilege—
a protester asks
to use the bathroom
Kelley White

In keeping with much current English practice, these don’t observe a 5/7/5 syllable count, but they do respect other qualities of haiku, such as the juxtaposition of two ideas, and the kigo (or turn in thought, here indicated by punctuation) even though the magazine editors do not insist on that feature. Above all, they leave space for readers to enter in with our own minds: that moment of surprise / realisation.

Bad Haiku

I also found, elsewhere, a link to a new collection of school children’s haiku. It was a sad example of the bad teaching of haiku which happens in too many schools! All of them were neatly 5/7/5, all of them stated the obvious, and none of them was the least bit poetic. It’s possible to write lovely haiku in English in 5/7/5 syllables. We have shining examples in this community, in the persons of Magical Mystery Teacher and Gillena, among others. (I still do it myself, now and then.) What I object to is kids being taught that that is the ONLY thing that makes a haiku.

(I won’t give you examples from that publication, however, nor name it. Public shaming only makes people – in this case kids – feel bad, and does nothing to improve matters.)


Let me close by regaling you with some favourite pieces from dear Issa. David Lanoue, the author of the book I’m reading about him, suggests that when Issa talks of such humble creatures as worms, insects, fish, he’s obliquely referring to people too, and that his overtly down-to-earth verses also refer to ‘Pure Land’ Buddhist teachings about the blessings open to all despite this world’s impermanence and corruption.

(This centred alignment is how they are written in the book, and Lanoue's translations ignore syllable count in English, in the interests of being faithful to the poet's meaning.)

a precious harp
a beggar's flute
deep in mist


this fallen world
with cherry blossom


in cherry blossom shade
no one
is a stranger


unaware of the bucket...
a cool evening


locked in a staring contest
and a frog

and one I think we can all relate to just now (maybe we said something like it around last Christmas):

end quickly!
this year, you've been
an evil one

Now, please regale me and each other with anything you like, old or new, short or long, poetry or prose. (But if prose, no longer than 369 words, please.)

I was so enthused by Magaly’s micro-writing prompt that I rushed to write in every form she suggested. Luckily I double-checked and realised I had to limit it to one only. Some of you, similarly enthusiastic, also wrote more than required and posted them too, so we stood you in the naughty corner (deleted your posts). But we’re all free to share those today, and I certainly will. I’m kinda hopeful of a plethora of micro-writings in this Pantry. But whatever you come up with, I know it will be a feast.

Pop the link to your post in Mister Linky below, one post per person, and don't forget to have a look at each other's and leave an encouraging comment if you can. We love it when you leave a comment here, too, if only to say G'day (or Hi, or whatever that is in your language).

Next Wednesday, Rommy will ask us to write poetry or prose using the word ‘waystation’ as inspiration.


  1. Then, there's zappai, often referred to as "pseudo-haiku." No seasonal or nature references, but no human nature either. I read that haiku "societies" call zappai "doggerel verse" with no literary merit.

    1. Ooh, that's a new one on me! Did it originate in Japan? I'll have to have a Google.

    2. Well I did that, and found that Wikipedia says it is Japanese, separate from haiku and senryu, and "includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku", while Robert Lee Brewer at Poetic Asides says, "Zappai should still be poetic, but they're 5-7-5 poems that don't include the seasonal reference". Fascinating!

  2. Thanks, R, for the cool & inclusive short-form intro & links. I've been lucky enough to have had 3 pieces published at Failed Haiku over the past couple years. If you're interested, here they are:

    1. Congratulations! I would like to read them, but the link didn't work for me. Perhaps I'll search your blog.

  3. I apologize to my friends here as I've neglected posting in a while. My newest contribution will explain some of the reasons for my time being preoccupied with my work.

    I hope all are well - Cheers!

    1. We've missed you, Joel, but we know you are very busy with your vital work.

    2. You are too kind, Rosemary. You flatter me if you think my work is vital but I posted my comment and jumped back to work cutting brush to get ready for the walnut pruning tomorrow. I also added the domestic chore of canning green beans and finished a few minutes ago. I will have to read other entries tomorrow.
      I'll add a bookmark for this pantry. I'm not confident in my short forms but I will give it a go.

      I've learned a lot from your guidance and I'll drop you an email soon, Rosemary.

      Thank you and Cheers!

    3. Dear Joel, I think growing trees is indeed vital. Whatever other reasons you may have for doing so, you are adding oxygen to the planet. Growing food is pretty important, too.

  4. Good day, poets!

    Thank you, Rosemary, for this very informative article on the senryu. And thanks for Issa's poems.

    When i started writing haiku, i thought it was one big genre. One day, it just occurred to me that most of the haiku i was writing is actually senryu. And a good one for both is equally hard to write.

    I have heard, and visited Failed Haiku. I am thinking of sending them some submissions. :)

    1. I think many of us are really writing senryu – or perhaps even zappai, though hopefully not doggerel (see Lisa's comment above, and my replies). I always like what you write, and I hope you do send them some submissions.

  5. hi, just wanted to let you know that i really enjoyed what you wrote here about haiku and about issa in particular. i'm a huge, huge fan of issa and he is still, all these years later, still the primary inspiration in my own works, haiku or not (he was a master with no students, i was a student with no master, so it was a perfect fit in my eyes) anyway, i just wanted to share an issa poem that i think demonstates everything you talked about, and a personal favorite which he titled (cause he's issa):

    upon returning to my home village

    don't know about the people
    but all the scarecrows
    are crooked

    love his hybrid haiku senryu style

    1. Thank you, Phillip. I love this one too! And had not come across it before, so I'm very glad you shared it with us. And thanks for participating with us, as well. It's always great to 'hear' a new voice.

  6. What a wonderful post, Rosemary. Senryū is one of my favorite short forms. I love that it does with human action what haiku does with nature. The court piece, from The Failed Haiku, is a particularly strong one.

  7. Has to be one of the most informative posts ever! I love short forms, all of them. I also love attempting new forms. The most puzzling aspect of a senryu is "how to pronounce it." I have heard no fewer than five ways .... none of them sound remotely the same. Help!!!!!

    1. I am enquiring from a Japanese-speaking friend, and will let you know.

    2. See my new comment below. (Glad to find I have been saying it as right as an English-speaker can get – and that the pronunciation guides I found online are way off the mark.)

    3. Well I suppose, on reflection, I am NOT glad that the pronunciation guides get it so wrong.

  8. I am appalled! For all this time I've been spelling it senyru and pronouncing it sin-ee-roo! Mea culpa! Aside from that astounding discovery, I enjoyed the info and samples here immensely. Now I'm trying to plot how I can mark this post for reference!

    1. Add it to your bookmarks, dear One.

    2. *Grin.*

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Bev, and found it useful.

  9. Pronunciation of senryu (advice from Aussie friend who spends a lot of time in Japan, speaks and writes the language, and occasionally tries writing haiku:
    "Sen" as in "sent". The "ryu" is a single syllable but to try to explain it in English, I have to use long sounds, where they aren't necessarily long in Japanese. So "ry" is "ree" as in reed, and "u" like the "oo" in food. Therefore sen-ree-oo but it's all run together. The "ry" is NEVER pronounced like "rye". That would be spelled "rai" in Japanese. I checked and it's actually a long "oo" indicated by an extra "u" syllable in Japanese but I wouldn't stress too much about pronouncing it. In hiragana the difference between ryu and rye is obvious; りゅ vs らい. Senryu is written せんりゅう.

    1. PS The source of this advice is my old friend Rob Geraghty, who further thinks the first syllable would be the one stressed. So, SEN-ree-oo, not Sen-REE-oo.

    2. Thank you a million times!! Now I can speak the word without stumbling all over the place!!

  10. I loved this post so much. Thank you.


Please be respectful of all the people on this site, as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.