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The Gift of Haiku and Senryu

It’s the holiday season, and I hope that you and yours are doing well during these difficult and crazy pandemic times. I was thinking today about the gift of haiku and what it means to me. I thought that I would share some of my favorite haiku and senryu with you, and I invite you to do the same in the comments. (Note: Please share published poems only. Some publications will not publish pieces that have appeared anywhere online.) Let’s celebrate our haiku community!

In the past year, more than 25 haiku poets have generously shared their Advice for Beginners with New to Haiku. Many, if not all, of the poets interviewed advised new poets to read, read, and read some more haiku. If you follow this advice, after a time you will begin to collect haiku and senryu in the same way that you might gather seashells, bottle caps, or memories. You may not realize it at first, but some of these poems will become a part of you.

These are just a few of the poems that live with me.

all day long
i feel its weight
the unworn necklace

Roberta Beary

This poem is from Roberta’s collection with Snapshot Press, The Unworn Necklace, and is an excellent example of senryu as narrative. I have been fascinated with this poem since I first read it. Why is the necklace unworn? Did it break? Is it lost? Was it given to someone else? Does it even exist? Similar to a choose-your-own adventure book with different possible endings, multiple interpretations of this poem are valid. The message in this poem differs depending upon the reader.

washed jeans ––
his love note
still dirty

Susan Burch

Susan won an honorable mention in Sonic Boom‘s Fourth Annual Senryu Contest in 2018 with this deliciously sensual and surprisingly intimate poem. This poem feels like a secret between friends. Remember passing notes in high school about your latest crush? The hidden love note may be washed and faded, but if you know where to look, there’s that blush of discovery and a secret smile.

on this cold

         spring 1

    2 night     3    4

       kittens

     wet

      5

— marlene mountain

The first time I read this poem by marlene mountain, which initially appeared in 1978’s moments/moments, unaloud haiku from High/Coo Press, I did a double take. This haiku has more than three lines! Can you do that? (Yes.) Wait, those are numbers! Why are there numbers? Ohhhh. They represent kittens! The kittens in this poem are arriving unexpectedly, just like this poem surprised me with its unusual line count, flow, and digits.

Good haiku continue to reveal themselves to you upon re-reading them. This poem takes that a step further by initially seeming nearly indecipherable. Personally, I did not understand this poem on the first reading or even the second! Like a puzzle, however, marlene’s haiku grabbed my attention and held on. I love the shape of the poem, which also intrigues me. I have decided that it resembles a kitten held in the mouth of the mother cat.

aster than the speed of lightf

— LeRoy Gorman

This haiku by LeRoy Gorman, which appeared in Scifaikuest in November 2016 and later won the 2017 Dwarf Stars Award, is another “puzzle” poem that I love. When I shared this one on the board for my son’s middle school class a few years ago, one child, when no one was looking, erased the “f” at the end of the poem and re-wrote it at the beginning of “aster”. The teacher was embarrassed, but I loved the way that the student interacted with the poem. Clearly, the haiku moved them so much that they had to respond! This haiku does make us uncomfortable. We want to move that “f” because leaving it at the end of the poem changes our world view.

roadside diner
a shade too brown
for service

Jonathan Roman

My heart hurt when I read this senryu by Jonathan, which appeared in May 13, 2020’s THF’s Haiku Dialogue for Haiku Prism – Brown. Such pain condensed into 3 lines. Such is the power of haiku and senryu. I have not had this experience, but when I read this poem, I was right there at the roadside stand, sweating in the heat with Jonathan and his family, feeling angry, resigned, and defeated, wanting to yell at the proprietor but not knowing if it would even help. Haiku and senryu can be effective windows into someone else’s life.

30th of June
my unidentified flag
furls into itself

Peg Cherrin-Myers

Similar to Jonathan’s poem, Peg’s poem, a recent winner in the First Annual Trailblazer Contest, deeply touched me. I read through lines 1 and 2 wondering what was going on. Why this seemingly inconsequential date? Why an unidentified flag? And then, on line 3, I felt a wallop: it was the end of Pride Month and loneliness permeated everything. I wasn’t sure exactly where the loneliness stemmed from, but similar to Roberta’s poem, multiple reasons came to mind. I can’t hug the poet in person yet, but at least I can tuck their poem into my heart.

the moon behind the clouds––
all these little old ladies

— Mikey Kelsey, age 6

Speaking of my heart, I may be more than a little biased about this last poem, which appeared in 2014’s Rattle Young Poet’s Anthology. I love the child’s perspective here. All of the little old ladies crowding around to pinch the boy’s cheeks are holding him back, similar to the clouds shielding the brightness of the moon. Or maybe my son simply planned to moon the crowd, who knows?

What are your favorite haiku and/or senryu that you have read? Share them in the comments, and let’s celebrate our wonderful community!

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy for more information.

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. aster than the speed of lightf

    — LeRoy Gorman

    when I read this my head spins so fast and I can see a circle that never ends
    asterthanthespeedoflightfasterthanthespeedoflightf…. excellent job

    here is one of mine dedicated to Brâncuși’s art

    imagination
    Brâncuși’s art Bird in Space-
    life’s aspirations

    1. the Endless Column–
      somewhere, another cricket
      is counting the stars

      First Prize: Christina Oprea
      Site: Endless Column (Constantin Brancusi)

      I was fortunate enough to be the judge of the World Monuments Fund (New York, USA) haiku contest, and the winning entry was about this famous piece by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957):
      https://www.wmf.org/project/brancusi’s-endless-column-ensemble

      The other placed haiku that continue to be wondrous to me:
      https://area17.blogspot.com/2013/08/extended-judges-report-for-2013-world.html

      1. Alan Summers, Christina Oprea did a great job with this no wonder she got the first prize.

        the recent one of mine on the same subject
        The Endless Column-haiku

        hope touches the sky
        reborn in infinity-
        the endless column

        Marius Alexandru

  2. harusame ya
    hachi no su tsutau
    yane no mori

    Basho

    spring rain
    the wasp-nest streams
    the rafter’s leak

    This one has stuck with me, but I had to look it up, and translate it.

    1. Hi Gabriel. Thank you for your comment. You aren’t wrong. I tend to not distinguish haiku and senryu in my mind, but I can see where that was confusing here. I’ve updated the column to address this. I personally think of haiku and senryu on a slider bar, with very few poems being 100% haiku or 100% senryu, but you are right — nearly all of these would be considered senryu. Thanks for catching that. P.S. Basho would invite me over for sake!

  3. 2021 WINNERS
    the Haiku Society of America Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial
    Haiku/Senryu Competition

    harvest moon
    corn whispers
    the wind’s path

    Gabby Short, Grade 7

    autumn breeze
    the cold chains
    of the old park swing

    Amiya Bhattacharrya, Grade 7


    2020 Winners
    the Haiku Society of America Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial
    Haiku/Senryu Competition

    summer night
    the house creaks
    a bedtime story

    Sahil Gandhi | Grade 8

    after my dog’s funeral
    his imprint
    still left in the bedsheet

    Julia Kwon, Grade 10

    New Year’s Eve
    at midnight I kiss
    my pillow

    Andrew Reveno, Grade 10

    Incredible work! All of them deeply moving, rich in the senses, and tactile.

    Brilliant!

    Alan Summers
    founder, Call of the Page

    1. Alan, thank you for sharing these! I hadn’t read them and they are amazing. I love the coldness of the park swing – a detail that an adult might not catch – and kissing the pillow at midnight. I can see why all of these poems were chosen as winners.

      1. Hi Julie,

        Or it might be something some youngsters might not notice, but was acutely observed by Amiya Bhattacharrya. It’s been a long time since I went on a swing, public parks were great to swing and chat when I was a bit older, but not now, with or without an Autumn chill! 🙂

        This was incredible,

        New Year’s Eve
        at midnight I kiss
        my pillow

        Andrew Reveno, Grade 10

        There’s been many a New Year’s Eve, until Karen became my partner as 1998 changed to 1999, where I was either at home or not in a romantic embrace as the year turned! 🙂

        It would also work incredibly well as a one line haiku:

        New Year’s Eve at midnight I kiss my pillow

        So many youngster’s haiku deserve to be in regular anthologies don’t they! 🙂

        Alan

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