川柳 Senryu: Comic Verse


was surprised by some of the interest in the Senryu poetry. While I expected people who participated to comment, many who did not participate wanted to try there hand at it, as well. While reading and commening takes time this is a labor of love for me, and I don’t mind. As long as you don’t mind giving me the time to read them. Cgran told me that he was surprised that I was taking it so seriously. Hmph! These young pups! I tell ya’. Work hard, study hard, play hard

Some of you were unfamliar with senryu and its rules. I have written about them in previous posts but they have been randomly presented so I will again provide some info. In the Edo period of Japanapprox. 1600-1868–Japan closed itself from the outside world and enjoyed a time of peace for over 250 years. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors ruled Japan with an iron fist, but there was relative prosperity among the common people. And it is this time when new forms of Japanese poetry developed. Everyone knows about Haiku, I think, but few know about senryu. Senryu takes the same form as haiku, but it is less concerned about the seasons and focused on the activities and emotions of man.

As an example, here is a poem my father wrote once upon a time.


kinba ni nokoru
kako wo hime

Fallen on hard times,
a man hides a past revealed
in a gold tooth.

Composed in 1940, my dad said, that this poem suggested a formerly wealthy man who has now fallen on hard times and tries to hide his successful past as represented by his gold tooth. The effect is forlorn, according to him. And in a way, it is, as a man hard on his luck may not want to reveal the fact that he has fallen so far. In 1940, there were still many down on their luck, and for my dad, this probably was an accurate depiction of this day. While senryu is often “ha-ha” funny, it is just as effective as an expression of irony, much like the above poem: the gold tooth, perhaps surrounded my dirty teeth, are the only reminder of his better days, and yet he is compelled to hide it.

For us, even as we compose in English: we should try to maintain the stucture of the original form. It may seem limiting, but it tests your diction, your imagination, and your ability to be concise and yet expressive. This is no mean feat. And the key to being expressive is to find and use words that anyone who reads your poem will associate to your gist: a reflection of the essence of the topic. The topic of the above poem was “gold tooth,” and my dad seemingly viewed the essence of gold teeth as “wealth”–as it would be in 1940–but he expressed this wealth as an embarrassing thing, by making it the only thing wealthy in a man down on his luck, trying to hide this single representation of better days.

Structurally, a senryu resembles a haiku. It is composed in three sections/lines of fixed syllable count: 5-7-5. Do not deviate. The above poem is 5-7-4, but that is the English translation. The original is in 5-7-5. Sometimes the count is overlooked by one syllable if the goro–natural rhythm–is solid. Good goro normally suggests a sentence that flows naturally. For us that would mean a number of things: Needless to say, I do check for spelling–“you are” is written “you’re” not “your”. Do not split infinitives–“I seem to always forget.” Try to keep keep prepositions in their PRE-position. Avoid splitting them across a line–“going to see him at / the beach”. Articles and pronouns–a, the, her, his, my–should never be separated from its noun across lines–“wandering to my / house”. Abbreviations are fine if they sound natural (can’t, don’t) or represent the natural pronunciation of a word (list’ning), but avoid forced or anachronistic abbreviations (e’er, ne’er). Grammatically, inversions and incomplete sentences are fine, but these should be used to place the impact word at the end of your poem. You should not use it because you can’t find the right word to fit the syllable count. Before submitting your poem, read it aloud but pause 3 seconds at the end of each line. If the pause sounds natural, then it’s probably okay.

As for content, the poem must address the topic, and the gist of the poem should touch on the its essence. The poem should contain the actual topic but it’s not necessary. Just make sure that the images you use unmistakably associate with the topic. Further, the essence you address cannot be a private one that only you understand. You should present an essence that reflects a kind of universality, common to most in everyday life through textual description. My dad conveyed the irony of hiding the “trappings” of wealth of one no longer wealthy. The poems can be funny as well; in fact, senryu is often translated as “comic verse”. Most important is your ability to depict this essence through images. My dad always told me that senryu was a snapshot of life, a moment in time that told a story that everyone would understand and relate to. My dad was a photographer, so I guess that’s his metaphor for senryu. But I once compared senryu to a Norman Rockwell illustration. Let’s look at the illustration to the here. A boy is getting a hair cut. As a boy, he is interested in comics and reads one as he gets it cut. The responsible adult barber is also interested in the comics suggesting that he too is a boy, As the boy discovers an interesting frame in the story, the adult barber can’t help but join in, ultimately losing focus as any boy would and cliping a groove through his customers head of hair. Yes, boys will be boys.

Now, your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to compose a poem that does the same thing: Draw a picture of a moment in time through text within the guidelines mentioned above. Tough? Well, if it were easy, I wouldn’t be doing this, and we wouldn’t have much of a salon, now would we. What’s the fun in doing something easy?

川柳会 Senryu Salon July

Since it is July, it is hot and it is muggy, the topic is: air conditioner. Be sure to use this word in your poem. Consider what the essence of an air conditioner is. Besides cooling, what does it do? Sooth? Cause colds? What is it? A machine in the window? Central air machine outside? Where is it? At home? At the office? In the train? Do you need an air conditioner? Ack! So many aspects! Which to choose? Heheheheh, good luck. And don’t kill yourself. The deadline will be next week so think it over.

And be sure to submit your poem to this post. Please limit yourself to one poem. Poems must be in English.

P.S. I am having issues at home that are taking up time… again… I apologize for not visiting your sites, but I will try to do so as soon as possible. Peace, everyone.

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