Tuesday, April 07, 2015

NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Senryu

Senryu (pronounced sen-ree-you) is a Japanese poetic form similar in structure to haiku. Instead of focusing on nature and the essence of a particular moment as haiku do, senryu are concerned with human nature, political issues, and satire. While one is usually quite serious, the other is more playful. 

Here is how the Haiku Society of America defines senryu.
A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.
The 13th Floor Paradigm has this nice bit of history and other information on senryu.
The Senryu came into existence as an independent genre in the Edo Period (1718-1790). It is often satirical, ironical, irreverent, mundane, cynical and is about human nature, therefore about human foibles including the erotic.  It has the same form of the Haiku, but doesn’t use a seasonal word (kigo) and it doesn’t have a cutting word (keiriji)  (in reality, in English we have no direct equivalents to the keiriji, so we use what’s called a cutting phrase.) 
It would be wrong to think that Senryu is always humorous.  In fact, a Senryu could talk about divorce, sex, murder, war, jealousy, cruelty…in a word every day-to-day events in human society.
Many books of poetry labeled as haiku actually fit the definition of senryu. So, even though I'll probably step on some toes here, I'm going to share some books that have terrific examples of senryu for kids.
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, written by Lee Wardlaw and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin is the story of a shelter cat and how she acclimates to her new home, told entirely in senryu. While you'll note that the title reads haiku, this is how Wardlaw describes her work in the author's note.
Won Ton's story is told in a series of senryu (SEN-ree-yoo), a form of Japanese poetry developed from and similar to haiku (HI-koo). Both senryu and haiku typically feature three unrhymed lines containing a maximum of seventeen syllables (5-7-5 respectively); each form also captures the essence of a moment. In haiku, the moment focuses on nature. In senryu, however, the foibles of human nature—or in this case, cat nature—are the focus, expressed by a narrator in a humorous, playful, or ironic way.
Whether we call it haiku or senryu, the short verses are entirely fitting for the tale Wardlaw tells. Won Ton's story is divided into sections, including The Shelter, The Choosing, The Car Ride, The Naming, The New Place, The Feeding, The Adjustment, The Yard, and Home. Here are two of my favorites.

Dogs have hair. Cats, fur.
Dogs whine, yip, howl, bark. Cats purr.
I say: No contest.

Scrat-ching-post? Haven't
heard of it. Besides, the couch
is so much closer.

Poems ©Lee Wardlaw, 2011. All rights reserved.

You can find a teacher's guide for WON TON at Lee Wardlaw's site, as well as one at Wild Geese Guides. You can also find a guide on Teaching Haiku in the Classroom.
Wardlaw and Yelchin follow this effort with a sequel entitled Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku (2015), in which Won Ton shares what life is like with a new puppy in the house. Here are two poems from this new title.

Bathroom skirmish ends
in triumph! Boredom subdued—
and I can blame you.

Some parts of woof  I
will never understand. But…
practice makes purrfect.

Poems ©Lee Wardlaw, 2015. All rights reserved.

You can find a teacher's guide for WON TON AND CHOPSTICK at Lee Wardlaw's site, as well as an activity guide.
Dogku (2007), written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Tim Bowers, is the story of a stray dog told through a series of 17 haiku (or senryu). As Clements says in the author's note, "And why did I write this picture book using haiku? Because a picture book is also a small container—not many pages, not many words. Adorable dog + haiku = Dogku. Simple."

The story begins with this poem.

There on the back steps,
the eyes of a hungry dog.
Will she shut the door?

Well, if she did, there would be no story! Eventually the dog earns the name Mooch and becomes a part of the family. Here is my favorite set of poems, which remind me of my very own troublemaker.

The house is quiet.
No kids, no mom, and no food.
What's a dog to do?

Chew on dirty socks.
Roll around in week-old trash.
Ahhh ... that's much better.

Poems ©Andrew Clements, 2015. All rights reserved.
Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku (2006, OP), written by Paul Janeczko & J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Tricia Tusa, is a collection of short, pun-filled, humorous senryu. While there is no information here about form, the last poem gives readers a clue.

A senryu goes
bouncing along into ...
a giant poet-tree!

Here are two of my favorite senryu.

Mice dart in shadows
as barn cat waits and grins ...
Ah! fast food tonight

O warm summer night
I awake to rude music:
cat coughing up hair ball

Poems ©Paul Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis, 2006. All rights reserved.
Guyku: A Year of Haiku For Boys (2010), written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter Reynolds, is a collection of poems about outdoor play through the seasons. One of my favorites recalls a favorite childhood pastime—riding a bike.

With baseball cards and
clothespins, we make our bikes sound
like motorcycles.

My other favorite reminds me of my brother.

If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.

Poems ©Bob Raczka, 2010. All rights reserved.

There is a terrific web site for Guyku. It includes information about the book, resources for teachers, information on how to write guyku, and more. You'll also find terrific ideas for using the book in the classroom at The Classroom Bookshelf.

If you are interested in writing senryu with your class, the page from 
Shadow Poetry on haiku and senryu suggests that a good structure to use is:
     subject and action (on two lines)

I hope you've enjoyed this brief introduction to senryu. Up tomorrow, animal haiku!

1 comment:

  1. Tricia, you are really outdoing yourself here with the Asian forms series!

    every day yet more
    precious syllables to chew
    and I'm still hungry