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Senryū (川柳, literally 'river willow') is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 morae (or "on", often translated as syllables, but see the article on onji for distinctions). Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious. Unlike haiku, senryū do not include a kireji (cutting word), and do not generally include a kigo, or season word.[1][2]

Form and content[edit]

Senryū is named after Edo period haikai poet Karai Senryū (柄井川柳, 1718–1790), whose collection Haifūyanagidaru (誹風柳多留) launched the genre into the public consciousness.[citation needed] A typical example from the collection:

泥棒を dorobō o
捕えてみれば toraete mireba
我が子なり wagako nari

When I catch,
The robber,
my own son

This senryū, which can also be translated "Catching him / I see the robber / is my son," is not so much a personal experience of the author as an example of a type of situation (provided by a short comment called a maeku or fore-verse, which usually prefaces a number of examples) and/or a brief or witty rendition of an incident from history or the arts (plays, songs, tales, poetry, etc.).[citation needed]

かくれんぼ kakurenbo
三つ数えて mittsu kazoete
冬になる fuyu ni naru

Hide and seek
Count to three
Winter comes

English-language senryū publications[edit]

In the 1970s, Michael McClintock edited Seer Ox: American Senryu Magazine. In 1993, Michael Dylan Welch edited and published Fig Newtons: Senryū to Go, the first anthology of English-language senryū.[3]

Additionally, one can regularly find senryū and related articles in some haiku publications. For example, World Haiku Review has regularly published senryū. Senryū regularly appear or appeared in the pages of Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Bottle Rockets, Woodnotes, Tundra, Haiku Canada Review, Presence, Blithe Spirit, Kingfisher, and other haiku journals, often unsegregated from haiku.

Senryū awards[edit]

The Haiku Society of America holds the annual Gerald Brady Memorial Award for best unpublished senryū.[4]

Since about 1990, the Haiku Poets of Northern California has been running a senryū contest, as part of its San Francisco International Haiku and Senryu Contest.[5]

See also[edit]

References and senryū books[edit]

  • J C Brown, Senryu: Poems of the People, Simon & Schuster Ltd, 1991, ISBN 978-0-8048-1664-9
  • R. H. Blyth, translator, Senryu: Japanese Satirical Verses, The Hokuseido Press, ISBN 0-8371-2958-3 [1949, 230 pp, Incl. B&W sketches & some colored plates]
  • R. H. Blyth, translator, Japanese Humour, Japan Travel Bureau, 1957
  • R. H. Blyth, translator, Japanese Life and Character in Senryu, The Hokuseido Press, [1960, 630 pp.]
  • R. H. Blyth, translator, Oriental Humour, The Hokuseido Press, [1960, 630 pp.]
  • R. H. Blyth, translator, Edo Satirical Verse Anthologies, The Hokuseido Press, [1961, 312 pp.]
  • Robin D. Gill, compiler and translator, Octopussy, Dry Kidney & Blue Spots – dirty themes from 18-19c Japanese poems, Paraverse Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9742618-5-0 [504 pp, 1300 senryu – Blyth mentioned that he could only introduce what the censors allowed; these are the type of senryū that were not allowed]
  • Robin D. Gill, ditto, The Woman Without a Hole – & other risky themes from old Japanese poems [same as above but with different title and ISBN 978-0-9742618-8-1]
  • Lorraine Ellis Harr (tombo), Selected Senryu, J & C Transcripts, 1976 [one of the earliest English-language senryū-only publications]
  • James Day Hodgson, American Senryu, The Japan Times, 1992 ISBN 4-7890-0661-1 [U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1974–1977]
  • Howard S. Levy and Junko Ohsawa, One Hundred Senryu Selections, So. Pasadena, CA, Langstaff Publications, 1979 ISBN 0-686-37532-7
  • Alan Pizzarelli, Senryu Magazine, River Willow, 2001. [Although this book looks like a regular journal, it is the effort of Alan Pizzarelli only, done as a parody of haiku journals.]
  • Makoto Ueda, Light Verse from the Floating World: An Anthology of Premodern Japanese Senryu, Columbia University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-231-11550-4 cloth ISBN 0-231-11551-2 pbk [273 pp., 400 senryu]
  • Michael Dylan Welch, ed. Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go, Press Here, 1993 (the first anthology of English-language senryū[3])


  1. ^ Smith, Adrian. "Senryu | Definition". Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  2. ^ Anon. "What are Haiku, Senryu, and Tanaka?". Akita International Haiku Network. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  3. ^ a b William J. Higginson, Frogpond XXV:1, Winter–Spring 1994, pages 103–105.
  4. ^ Gerald Brady Memorial Award
  5. ^ San Francisco International Competition, Haiku, Senryu, Tanka and Rengay

External links[edit]