Reprint ~ Modern
When I first began a serious study of haiku poetry under the
tutelage of Professor Harold G. Henderson in 1970, one prerequisite was an
understanding and appreciation of its related forms, i.e. the renga, haibun,
tanka and senryu.
Of all these forms, it was the senryu which had most captured my interest.
In 1972, the following poem of mine was published in the Haiku Society
bends over the tomatoes
a full moon
this poem, Henderson pointed out that this poem was, in fact,
a senryu since
its thrust and emphasis
was the woman’s behind
in addition to the juxtaposition of the lady’s roundness and the
As I later studied the senryu genre, I learned that it was “a product
of the merchant/townsmen culture of the 18th century, which celebrated
disallowed elsewhere in Japanese society. It also provided new material
for the poets to explore that the Haiku (with its emphasis on Nature
rather than Man)
excluded.”  This
came shortly after the quality of the Haiku and haikai deteriorated shortly
Here are a
few examples of this fine old senryu:
bird set free,
Collides with a tree.
Senryu (Early 18th century) 
To look for the wisdom
Inside his own body
Senryu (Early 18th century) 
A lover’s quarrel,
This morning, a real one.
of the experimentation going on among contemporary haiku poets
a need that
goes beyond the limitations of
haiku poetry. “Though an attempt at the revival of Old Senryu
was made in the latter part of the 19th century, senryu never quite
made it up the ladder as
a respectable genre of poetry”  -- until recently. Unfortunately,
it has gone unrecognized by the very poets who write them under the
haiku. I feel this is a great injustice to both the senryu genre and
the haiku genre. Today, when we hear such terms as “political
haiku,” “psychological haiku” and “metaphysical
need only to return to R.H. Blyth’s books on the subject of Senryu
to find prime examples of what is being called haiku today. For example:
He tries reading
“Make a profit
On the next sale.” she says,
Haggling over the price.
—Anon. Senryu (Early 18th century) 
As for the spiritual,
any good haiku is indeed spiritual! And when we consider the metaphysical,
to read the definition
of the word to understand its irrelevance to haiku as it is “abstract” (as
opposed to concrete) and it contains “intellectual imagery” (as
opposed to direct observation).
This reminds me
of a joke Anita Virgil told me about a man who goes into the tailor’s shop
to get his new suit altered. The tailor begins with the sleeves.
The man watches in the mirror and notices
that one sleeve is shorter than the other. When he tells the
tailor about it, the tailor says: “Just shift your shoulder
up a bit…There! You
see? It fits perfectly now.” But in the process, the man’s
jacket has hiked up at the back and is uneven “No problem,” says the tailor “Just bend your knee a bit and
it will straighten out the hemline.” The man does as
he is told and sure enough…the hemline seems to even
out. The alterations continue. Finally, with his new suit fixed,
the man goes out into the street wearing it. As he hobbles
down the sidewalk with the gait of a cripple, two women see
him. One says : “Oh,
look at that poor, poor man!” The other woman eyes him
a moment and responds: “Yes,
but doesn’t his suit fit perfectly!”
poets are displaying the innovative and wonderful potential
of the senryu genre: Alexis Rotella’s
Trying to forget
the potatoes 
I pedal my bike
through puddles 
or Marlene Mountain’s
he leans on the
gate going staying 
We can also rediscover
some early senryu, whose acceptance was first under
the aegis of haiku, such as Anita Virgil’s
After the child’s
cake eating! 
or Jack Kerouac’s
Missing a kick
at the icebox door
It closed anyway. 
But they will not
be recognized as such so long as they
are touted as “innovative haiku” rather
than approaches toward modern senryu.
Anita Virgil, “The Art of Haiku,” page 145.
R.H. Blyth, Japanese Life and Character in Senryu (Japan,
Hokuseido, 1960), page 51.
Makoto Ueda, Matsuo Basho (New York, Twayne Publishers,
Inc., 1970), page 183.
R.H. Blyth, Op. Cit., page 337.
Anita Virgil, Op. Cit., page 163.
R.H. Blyth, Senryu, page 181.
R.H. Blyth, Op. Cit., page 17.
Haiku Anthology ( Cor van den Heuvel, editor, New
York, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1986), page 196.
9. Ibid. page
Anita Virgil, A Second Flake.
Haiku Anthology, Op. Cit., page 113.
paper was first read at the Haiku Canada 1987 Weekend,
and first printed in the Haiku Canada September
1987 Newsletter, Vol.3, No.1, pp 5-8. Copyright, Alan Pizzarelli
2005: Simply Haiku