Wednesday, April 01, 2015

NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Sijo

Originating in Korea, sijo (pronounced she-zho) are poems divided into three or six lines. These poems frequently use word play in the form of metaphors, symbols and puns. Here is a description from AHApoetry.
More ancient than haiku, the Korean SIJO shares a common ancestry with haiku, tanka and similar Japanese genres. All evolved from more ancient Chinese patterns.

Sijo is traditionally composed in three lines of 14-16 syllables each, totaling between 44-46 syllables. A pause breaks each line approximately in the middle; it resembles a caesura but is not based on metrics.
I'm quite fond of the poems in Linda Sue Park's book Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo Poems. This book provides a wonderful overview and introduction to the form. Park's poems will have kids laughing and thinking at the same time. As the form demands, they are full of little surprises. Here are two of my favorites from the book.

Summer Storm

Lightning jerks the sky awake to take her photograph, flash!
Which draws grumbling complaints or even crashing tantrums from thunder--

He hates having his picture taken, so he always gets there late.


For this meal, people like what they like, the same every morning.
Toast and coffee. Bagel and juice. Cornflakes and milk in a white bowl.

Or -- warm, soft, and delicious -- a few extra minutes in bed.

Poems ©Linda Sue Park, 2008. All rights reserved.

How do you write a sijo? Here is a brief summary of the advice Park gives at the end of her book.
Three line poems should contain about 14 to 16 syllables per line. Six line poems should contain 7 or 8 syllables per line.

The first line should contain a single image or idea. The second line should develop this further. The last line should contain the twist. 
In his sijo primer, poet Poet Larry Gross writes:
Remember the three characteristics that make the sijo unique — its basic structure, musical/rhythmic elements, and the twist. It is shorter and more lyrical than the ghazal. It is more roomy than the haiku, and it welcomes feelings and emotions which haiku either discourage or disguise. It should please lovers of ballads, sonnets and lyrics, and the downplay of regular meter and rhyme should appeal to writers of free verse. 
Before introducing sijo in the classroom, you may want to try writing some sijo yourself! Here's a video primer to get you started.
While there are more familiar Asian forms of poetry read and written in the classroom (we'll get to those this month too!), I love the challenge that this form presents.

Once you are ready to begin, here are some resources that will help you tackle introducing and writing sijo in your classroom.
I hope this little introduction to sijo has piqued your interest in the form. Come back tomorrow to learn about another Asian poetic form.


  1. Wow - What a great and informative post, Tricia. I like this book so much too. And I'm hoping that you will perhaps make a new tab or place for this particular list of posts...I would love to be able to send teachers here for these ideas...long past this month. Thank you! Happy Poetry Month! xo, a.

    1. Done! I've added a tab just for you.

      And thank you for the compliment. I love sharing poetry with teachers. Is it crazy that I want them to love it as much as I do?

  2. Scarf Sijo

    A wild, wide one with fringe wraps the wearer in animal drama.
    Short stripes on silk knotted around a neck stand guard against slouching.
    Field of Van Gogh flowers twists infinitely, lifting heart to face.

    Is that a sijo?

  3. This is a wonderful post. I may not have time to try all these forms this month but I will want to come back. I am very curious to think through his this form relates to haiku.