six blackbirds, haiku and senryu (a resource for English teachers)
First Edition: SchoolNet Africa (South Africa), 2003.
Second Edition: LukivPress Online (Canada), 2010.
Third Edition: LukivPress (Canada), 2014.
Haiku: perhaps that word brings to your attention a concise form of poetry, one that many call imagistic, with line one of 5 syllables, line two of 7, and line three again of 5 (Wakan, 1993). You may say that every word must count; that often permanent and transitory images are linked for an evocative effect; that the present tense is essential; that a seasonal word grounds the poem in time; and that the words show, in images, but do not tell the reader how to feel. Such a traditional view, however, is often replaced by innovations that push the boundaries that define haiku today.
Rengé, editor of Haiku Headlines, "prefers 5/7/5 syllabic discipline, but accepts irregular haiku...which display pivotal imagery and contrast" (Haiku Headlines, 2002, p. 160). Actually, "many modern Japanese haiku...do not include a seasonal word, and many vary from the 5-7-5 onji [Japanese syllables] that are traditionally required" (Wakan, 1993, p. 57). Robert Spiess, editor of Modern Haiku, requests work that displays "traditional aesthetics of the haiku genre" (Modern Haiku, 2002, p. 238), but allows for haiku that are "innovative as to subject matter, mode of approach or angle of perception, and form of expression" (p. 238). Does this mean "anything goes"?
In terms of fine modern haiku, no. Slovenia's Dimitar Anakiev (1999, From Movement to Literature) speaks about fine haiku as moments of "depth and purity" (p. 8). He describes elements of haiku as "precision of imagery and delineation; unity of form and content; juxtaposition of and resonance between images; visual and aural polish" (p. 9). The USA's Jim Kacian (1999, Tapping the Common Well) says "it takes a very great artist to be deep and simple at the same time" (pp. 16-17).
We might think of haiku as "poetry of suggestion, of understatement" (Virgil, 1991, Introduction), as poetry of "moments of special awareness that...make one feel the wonder of the ordinary seen anew" (Introduction), as poetry of essence that establishes "a delicate mood, a deep emotion by new associations of images" (Introduction). Although the haiku poet doesn't generally tell the reader what emotion to feel, he provides "his reader just enough of a glimpse of a reality to allow the reader to experience the emotion it engendered in [himself]" (Introduction).
You're welcome to apply all I've said and reported about haiku to a related form called senryu. Some people like to argue about what makes a haiku versus what makes a senryu. "You could say," according to Naomi Wakan, "that senryu make you laugh at human foolishness, and haiku make you ponder or wonder" (1993, p. 62). Others have their own distinctions: "Senryu are usually humorous or satirical....Unlike haiku, senryu do employ poetic devices such a simile, metaphor, personification" (Virgil, 1991, Introduction). For me: Haiku, which may use literary devices (Ament, 2003) such as simile, metaphor, and onomatopoeia,
1. refer exclusively to nature,
2. often contain concrete imagery that appeals to the senses, and fill two or three lines;
3. 5/7/5 would describe maximum syllabic line-lengths.
Also for me: Senryu are "haiku" that refer to people.
A note for teachers
Students may have fun finding out which poems are haiku as opposed to senryu, according to my definition, or another. They may enjoy finding literary devices used or placing the poems in categories; for example, winter versus spring versus summer versus autumn, humorous versus serious, sad versus happy, traditional versus modern, or satirical versus sober. They may wish to line up those philosophical. They may wish to make up their own categories. In the end, I hope the students' reading of the poems enriches their lives and encourages them to author their own moments.