Saturday, April 3, 2010

Haiku, Senyru and the WHY of Poetry

Fluid energy
A chorus line steps in time
Highway headlights stream

I wrote this haiku (no I stand corrected - it is a senryu - a haiku is about nature, a senryu is about people, places or things) as I was preparing for my poetry month blog series.  As I often do, I woke early but lazed in bed last weekend as daybreak arrived.  I was watching the constant stream of headlights which traced an arc from the east to the west as the cars travelled along the Gardiner Expressway and past my view.  The sight was very energizing and beautiful.  As they say, I was "moved" to write a poem.  The haiku style, with its short lines and burst of thought seemed right. 

I enjoy writing poetry - trying to find the right words to express a thought or emotion is fun.  I also enjoy a bit of a puzzle and a challenge, so verses with a prescribed form and a need to pay attention to the rhythm and sound is for me an entertaining exercise.

But writing poetry is hard work, much easier is the reading of a great poem written by one of the thousands of wonderful poets that have lived on this planet.

It is poetry month and so for this month, I am letting my poetic side rule.  I am reading poetry, I am writing poetry and I am basking in the joy that poetry brings to me.

There are lots of sorts of poetry and just like art it ranges from the very creative, clever and/or calming to the primitive, simplistic and/or jarring. Like art, it is created to express and/or to evoke an emotion.   Poetry should sit right up beside music and art and along side other creative writing forms but today our society, I think, has short shifted poetry and poets.  I think poets got much more respect in times gone by.  So I do my bit in April to focus on poetry and give thanks to poets.

Poetry is food for the soul.  For those of you who perhaps have not dipped into the well of great poetry that exists today, I urge you to set aside some time to explore the great wealth of poetry we have in our trove chest.   There is truly a style and theme to suit any palate.  You can steer clear of love poems if you are macho man or Mr. Red Neck Al.  If you are Mommy dearest there are lots of children's poetry you can read with your little one.  If you are an aging hippy, there are lots of poems out there leaning to the left.  There are poems marking events, if you are a history buff and poems honouring famous places if you are into geography.  In short: no excuse!  Read a poem in honour of poetry month.  Go Here to find a starter list of Twenty Examples of Why You Should Enjoy Poetry.

To have a poem mailed to your each day in the month of may go here.

I started this post with a haiku I wrote, but what I want to focus on is not my feeble attempts at this craft but other works of great poetry and today I will blog about the Japanese styles of haiku, senryu and renku.

According to Wiki
a haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively. Haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura(or cutting word).

Go here to know more about the senryu

So a haiku/senryu are very simple things with a very small amount of content - what can you say in 17 sylables?  Want to try your hand?  Go here for some help.   I am not a person of few words.  I would have a hard time if my poems were limited to this form.

The renku (meaning linked verses)  also called haikai norenga is a all that is haiku/senryu and more.  This is a type of Japanese poetry which consists of a string of linked alternating 17/14 syllable verses  which are produced collaboratively. There are other requirements for this style of poetry, but basically that is it in a nutshell.

I found a great renku on the internet titled Purple Petals.  This is a thirty-six stanza haikai, known as a kasen, which is the most popular form of renku. Go here to read more about renku on wiki.

As explained here the opening lines of a renku start the progression of linked verses which are produced collaboratively.  The Purple Petals renku was produced by 3 poets over a period of months remotely via mail. 

The first verse, the opening stanza, (known as the hokku) is a place of honor and is usually reserved for the renku master. In this instance, the authors gave that honor to Jack Kerouac's haiku.  (I am also working on a blog focusing on Jack Kerouac for next month so stay tuned for more on him then).

Haiku by Jack Kerouac
Morning Sun --
        the purple petals
four have fallen

And so the stage is set for the next 35 linked verses.

By linked it is meant that there is a line repeated from one stanza to the next. There are rules which govern how the lines are repeated and I looked at the explanation long enough to decide not to explain it.  But it is nice because the repetition does not become monotonous or chorus like.  I like the way this poem meanders through topics chained by that one repeating part of the previous and it ends up a bit remenicient of the game "Chinese whispers" because the original thoughts  - the haiku by Jack Kerouac are long gone and what ends up bears no relationship to the begining.

The last stanza:

           snow plow fills in
what I just shoveled out
          North Country Zen exercise
deep amber of oversteeped tea
these shorter days so very similar

Go here to read the the complete poem "Purple Petals" by Pat Nolan, Keith Abbott, Maureen Owen, Michael Sowl

The site,  Jack Magazine,  (as in Jack Kerouac) which includes this poem is a great one for literature related to Beat GenerationIt contains a nice collection of poems of all styles from folks of this era here.  From the site's editorial comments:
JACK Magazine, founded and edited by Mary Sands and Michael Rothenberg, is an offshoot of Beat Generation News and an arc to the Big Bridge. It's where the parameters of the Beat Generation are redefined and expanded to embrace a creative movement that goes beyond personality wedged in temporal categories and public relations concepts. JACK will ponder emanations and movements in modern literature and art that have been operating and vital since before the turn of the 20th century but eclipsed by the "Beat movement," such as Post-Apocalyptic Romanticism, Psychedelic Shamanism, Green-Pea Soupism and Biannual Surrealism, Cannabis Mumbo Gumbo, Burroughsian Utopianism, San Francisco Renaissance Poetry, Modern Urban Thoreauism and Forest Beatnikism, Black Mountain Poetry, and Language School Poetry—all creative phenomena that inform, as well as are informed by, what is popularly known as "Beat."

I couldn't resist re-tweeting that in its entirety.  But don't get me started - Beat Generation Literature is a whole different kettle of fish and that is for next month.


  1. The only haiku I ever wrote was about a crab.

    Movement I did see
    Walking on the beach in Spring
    This crab startled me!

    Here's the picture that motivated me to write this poem.

    There have been times when I post a photograph on my blog, the only thing accompanying the photograph is a poem. I like to find poems that portray what my photograph says to me.

  2. Peggy
    Haven't read your blog in a while.

    Re your accounting problems. Try quickbooks for bookeeping. It's easy to use and you can get all the reports you will ever need plus at the end of the year, you can just give a copy to your accountant and he can do the business taxes off the books.

  3. Hey, Pio - nice to hear from you and glad you could drop by for a read!

    Yes, my accountant has suggested Quickbooks and I guess I will need to break down and get a copy. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Best regards,


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