Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Haiku or Senryu

A fellow teacher suggested:

"A terrific idea is to have a child record their haiku and then illustrate it in a software program. I have done just that with several elementary classes and the results are wonderful. Each child is excited to see his/her illustration and hear their haiku. This is a way for parents to hear a recording of their child's voice. We have so many papers of what our children have done in school, but probably not many audio samples."

I used to have children read what they had written to their parents in February. We would tape them and send home a tape for all the kids. Of course, that predates CD burning! Voices can be taped and put in an audiofile in a class web page.

It is important for students to read plenty of examples. Teachers need to do this, too, to better understand the genre. And we must clearly understand that some examples on the web are not true haiku. Anyone can throw down some lines and call them what they will. Only use trusted, reputable sources for information.


English-language haiku consist of "three content categories":
  • Nature haiku / Human haiku (senryu) / Human plus nature haiku (hybrids).
(see: E. St Jacques for more examples)

in construction:
  • three lines with 17 or fewer "on" (not syllables) in total.
  • tend to be about nature
  • include a kigo, or season word
  • serious
  • written in the present tense
  • relates a moment of discovery/surprise (the "aha!" moment):
  • includes a kireji (cutting word*)
*Kireji (切れ字 cutting word) is the term for words used in Japanese traditional poetry. It is regarded as a requirement in traditional haiku.

I have been introduced to another haiku family:

Human Haiku or Senryū

A Japanese form of short poetry with the same structure as haiku.
  • include only references to some aspect of human nature (physical or psychological)
  • or to human artifacts
  • possesses no references to the natural world
  • has no season words
  • subject: foibles
  • darkly humorous
  • often cynical

Senryū Karai (柄井川柳, 1718-1790) (see Haiku)

A typical example from the collection:

泥棒を dorobō wo
捕えてみれば toraete mireba
我が子なり wagako nari
The robber,
when I catch,
my own son
Is that not fantastic? I enjoy the discussion regarding how this Japanese tradition can be translated into English. I doubt it can - but it, like language, can evolve and encourage us to play with words and images. It is cognitive gymnastics in a pure, abstract, intellectual form.
Also, check out PoetryDances for some examples.

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