Senryu: Poetic Forms

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When I looked over my revised list of poetic forms recently, I was surprised to see that senryu was not on there. It's one of those forms I assumed was already covered. But I probably just mentioned the form while talking about haiku. So let’s look at senryu!

Senryu Poems

When most people write "haiku," they're actually writing senryu. That is because senryu follows many of the same standard rules as haiku without the reference to nature. For many, haiku is a three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third and final line. And that's that.

However, haiku masters would argue that there are other rules as well, including a cutting word, a juxtaposition of images, and a reference to nature (and a particular season). Most American haiku writers would also say that 5-7-5 syllables aren't that important. And that three lines could easily be converted into one line.

Here are a few guidelines on writing senryu:

  • Three lines with the five-seven-five syllable pattern (or something similar)
  • Subjects tend to be related to human nature (as opposed to natural nature)--so romance, ironic human behavior, various relationships
  • Often, senryu try to spark a laugh or "knowing moment"

As with contemporary haiku, don't get caught up as much on counting syllables. The main goal is to capture an image or moment in a concise way.

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Master Poetic Forms!

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Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

Click to continue.

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Here’s my attempt at a Senryu:

numbers and letters, by Robert Lee Brewer

I never respond
when she sends me love letters--
they never add up

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He doesn't believe senryu tend to have titles, but he added one anyway. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

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