Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 2013 Challenge - Haiku or Senryu

The poetic forms called haiku and senryu developed in Japan, but they have been adapted by poets all over the world. They didn’t become popular until the 1950s, after the publication of translations of Japanese haiku in the US.

Each poem is representative of a moment, the here and now moment. The Haiku Society of America puts it this way: “The essence of one moment of wisdom captured within a few, short lines is still what inspires writers and draws audiences from around the world.”

The British Haiku Society website says, “Concrete images, not abstract words, carry the meaning and create the emotional tension and atmosphere in haiku. Two (not so often, more) images juxtaposed in the space of a few short lines, freely associated, without any positive syntactical link, allow a possibility of comparison which can be stronger than simile.”

Two images surprisingly juxtaposed ways can create tension and/or ambiguity. Poets writing in English sometimes use an ellipsis or dash to indicate the “break” between the two images. Abstractions and judgments are out of place.

Traditionally haiku most often dealt with nature or the passage of seasons. The classical Japanese poets usually included a word that identified (sometimes subtly) the season. This is not always done in modern English haiku, however. Haiku-like poems that deal with human nature and those whose main purpose is to make the reader laugh are called senryu. The distinction between the two has been blurred in modern North American poetry, perhaps due primarily to urbanization.

Note that haiku does not employ rhyme.

Here are several haiku and/or senryu poems written by Charlotte Digregorio and used with her permission.  

ice glazes the window . . .
our forks clinking
out of sync

From A Hundred Gourds (June, 2013).

into winter
homeless man's words

From Modern Haiku, 41.1 (Winter-Spring, 2010).

walking through the zoo . . .
i keep my problems
in proportion

From Modern Haiku, 41.1(Winter-Spring, 2010).

Notice how each of these poems creates a mood and puts us in the moment with Digregorio. I can see the ice on the window and hear the forks clinking “out of sync.” I sit with her at a table she has not described. I walk with her on a cold city street, where a homeless man says “God bless you” even when I don’t drop money into his cup. I walk through the zoo – wondering in what sense her walk has helped her gain a new perspective on her problems. Doing so helps me put mine “in proportion.”

Notice how each of these poems expresses the essence of just one moment. Digregorio doesn’t tell us what to think or feel, but puts us in touch with our own emotions.

Charlotte Digregorio is the Midwest Regional Coordinator of the Haiku Society of America. On her blog (at she says, “I find that each time I read haiku or attend a haiku event with readings, I’m in the frame of mind to go home and write some. Just by being exposed to others’ haiku, one receives a spark that triggers thoughts for poems. In Japan, where haiku originated, people believe that the firefly’s spark enlightens us. It’s that sort of spark that comes to us when haiku is read or spoken.”

Digregorio is the author of four non-fiction books, two of which have been Featured Selections of the Writers’ Digest Book Club. Her poems (including haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, free verse, acrostic poems, and sestinas) have been published widely. Some have been translated to Japanese, Turkish, Polish, French, and Russian.

Some Sources of Haiku:

You can read the winners of recent contests of the Haiku Society of America at;  British Haiku Society contest winners are posted at

There are several books which can be helpful to you, if you would like to learn more about haiku. You might enjoy these:

       Matsuo Basho, A Haiku Journey: Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province, translated by Dorothy Britton (Illustrated Japanese Classics; Kodansha, 2002).

·         Bruce Ross, The Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku (Tuttle Publishing, 1993).

August 2013 Poetry Challenge:

As you have doubtless figured out by now, the challenge for August is to write haiku or senryu (you do not have to worry about the distinction). You may submit a total of two independent haiku or senryu, or a sequence of 3-5 related haiku.
Please do not title individual haiku; a haiku sequence may be given a title.. If you wish to submit a haiku sequence 3-5 haiku related in some way you may title the sequence. Follow the guidelines given by the Haiku Society of America ( a closely as you can. For purposes of this challenge, please try to limit each poem to 17 or fewer syllables. Please use left justification, since other spacing is very difficult in this blog.


How to Submit Your Poem:

Send your poem to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for“at” and a . for [dot]. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name, exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win, at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment. Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If you poem has been published in a periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include publication data.

Copyright on poems are retained by the poets.

© 2013 Wilda Morris