Posted in Haiku, Senryu

Eva Limbach’s Evacuation

evacuation —
a little boy waves
into the camera

© Eva Limbach (Germany)
Chrysanthemum, issue 22, 2017

From the onset, line 1 sets the scene.
Eva has left it open as to what the evacuation is about, but immediately the current plight of refugees and other displaced families come to mind.
A harsh, direct, concrete statement.

Then, line 2 is a little boy waving—how resilient children are in adversity!
Here we are shown how the camera creates more excitement for the child on his big adventure…how most children would react!

Now think beyond that…do you see the far-to-near method being used to attain focus?

Consider a big hill of flowers in the distance, then bring yourself closer to a group of flowers in front of you and then a single flower beside you…you have focused in, you can also focus out (this applies to any poetry). So, let’s look at Eva’s haiku again.

evacuation —
a little boy waves
into the camera

A broad scene, “evacuation” then draws you forward to a little boy waving and ending in the eye of a camera…far-to-near focus.
This gives the haiku movement and, when done well, can be very effective. (Remember, this is about evacuation, movement!)

Now the reader can wonder who the camera person is…is it media news? Perhaps it’s the family’s last photo together…many possibilities and lateral interpretations.

This is a powerful haiku/senryu that should evoke emotion in any reader who takes the time to consider its poignant words.

This is why it was accepted and published by Chrysanthemum journal…a wonderful haiku!

– Brendon Kent (UK)

What do you think or feel about this poem? Let us know in the comments.

Posted in Senryu

Lucia Fontana’s Lonely Night

lonely night . . .
from myself to myself
a poem in the mail

© Lucia Fontana (Italy)

Poets from the group Haiku Nook wrote commentary on this senryu:

I like it, and can relate to it. Not that I am particularly lonely, but sometimes, who better to like our poems than ourselves?

– Dana Grover

While we have grown accustomed to the speed of emails, texts, or personal messages, there is still something tangible and heartwarming about receiving a letter in the mail. A handwritten note, especially, can create proximity between sender and recipient. What snail mail lacks in speed, it often makes up for in warmth of touch.

In Fontana’s poem, we encounter a narrator seeking, but failing to receive, that warmth and proximity. Alone at night, when our darkest emotions are strongest, she decides to bridge this gap by mailing a poem to herself. Fontana achieves a delicate balance here. The subtle humour inherent in sending yourself a poem (of which neither the content nor arrival will come as a surprise), works to accentuate the loneliness which prompts that need to begin with. Fontana’s senryu has successfully captured a moment of loneliness which exceeds, in depth of feeling, the brevity of the poem.

– Dave Read

lonely night . . .
from myself to myself
a poem in the mail

First, Dave’s comments are brilliant, and spot-on.

When I read this poem, I get a paradoxical feeling of rejection and acceptance.

One one hand, I’m reading a poem that I submitted to a magazine that got rejected (for no good reason), and it was mailed back in my own, self-stamped return envelope. (This has happened to me, numerous times).

On the other hand, I can’t help but see the possibility of acceptance, as the author’s poem got sent back in the return envelope with an ACCEPTED stamp on it, relieving some of the sadness and feelings of isolation.

It seems a lot of writers are brilliant but don’t necessarily feel connected with many people. It seems to send poems out is an attempt to extinguish the sense of isolation. When a writer’s work is accepted, it seems to significantly uplift someone’s mood, and solidifies a connection with another human being. Someone, who I have never seen before has read my poem, and accepted it, but, not only thatit’s now being published to be read by many more people. That is a very good feeling that I think all writers and poets share. It’s a feeling of being accepted in a larger groupa feeling of belonging, of someone else noticing you, and wanting to share a part of you with many more people.

– Jacob Salzer

First, I thought “from myself to myself” is a Zen feeling, but it seems to be my misreading, because there is the word “lonely” in the first line.

The first line uses “… ” which is for making a cut, clearly. This second line ends with a personal pronoun, which is a second light cut. So, I can read this senryu as three parts.

“lonely night …” is the introduction of this senryu. It feels like “silence.” The second line “from myself to myself ” gives me an image of repetition. Is it deeply into oneself?

The third line is made up of nouns. Often, the Japanese say that haiku and senryu are poems based on nouns. This third line’s ending becomes flat with the noun. First, I thought this poem was a haiku. The first line and second line are moody. But the third line is suddenly flattened by the nouns. So, this writer categorized this poem as a “senryu”? This is a little mysterious as a senryu.

– Norie Umeda

The other poets commenting on this senryu wrote a great deal of what I wanted to say, but to add, I will point out that this senryu’s aesthetic could be a way to express the increase in loneliness, despite last-ditch efforts. The poet receiving a poem from herself accentuates the loneliness, and maybe she begins to accept her loneliness with greater depth since this act is so unusual.

It is like Buddhist monks sometimes say: “Become one with pain, and move beyond it.” I think this senryu could be expressing this sentiment.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

What do you think or feel about this senryu? Let us know in the comments.

Posted in Senryu

Donna Claire Gallagher’s Candle

blowing out
one birthday candle
the whole family

© Donna Claire Gallagher (1941 – 2009)

Various poets from the Haiku Nook wrote about this haiku:

I like it. I have an image of a family gathered around a birthday cake for a child who has just turned one year old, too young to understand the meaning of birthday celebrations and too young to know about blowing out candles at such celebrations. This is a happy, joyful event, a family, more than one generation, gathered and bound together with the glue of love. And Donna Claire said all that with only eight words. Kudos to her.

– Dana Grover

Yes, when everyone else forsakes you… the comfort of family is your last bastion of hope in this physical world. Their warmth, their assurance, their comfort in the most trying moments of your life.

Of course there would be happy moments shared with the family, specially with a big one, as in this ku, where a child celebrates his first year. I could imagine the fun… the human drama of it all.

– Willie Bongcaron

Could be a trick candle, the last fragment is the key because it’s pretty much open to all types on interpretations where the haiku never ends because of the structure.

– Fractled

Yes, there’s an element of humor. It could be a trick candle, but there’s also a connotation of warmth and togetherness that conjures the image of a close-knit family, as was said earlier. I don’t approve of calling verses like this “senryu.” The tone is light and humorous, but also very warm and positive. It is firmly in the haiku range of tone and character, and calling a ku this wholesome and lovely a senryu is an insult in my opinion.

– Clayton Beach

I think this says a lot about how much a family has invested in the next generation, and how the first birthday is an important milestone. Perhaps we can be reminded that in many parts of the world, the infant mortality rate remains very high.

Another point is that this first birthday is a unifying event for the familyas we all know, families are full of tensions and issues, but on this special day, the whole family are united in one simple task.

– Martha Magenta

One view that was not mentioned by the other commentators was that maybe this senryu is about the death of a baby, and the family is blowing out a birthday candle in honor of the baby.

Also, in terms of sound, the “b” in “blowing” and “birthday” could connect to the sound of blowing out of a candle. Also, making the senryu more musical is the “l” sounds coursing through the lines.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

What do you think or feel about this senryu? Let us know in the comments. 

Posted in Senryu

Elisa Allo’s Drawer

after Memorial Day
Anne’s Diary
back in a drawer

© Elisa Allo (Switzerland)

(first appeared in The Mainichi May 31, 2017 and Otata, May 17, 2017)

I would say this is a senryu rather than a haiku, as it does not have any seasonal reference (though sometimes haiku does not contain a seasonal reference), and it takes a jab at human behavior.

This is most likely a senryu about The Diary of Anne Frank, and how we forget its meaning, and the victims of war in general, the day after Memorial Day. One famous quote from the book that may slip our mind is, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

This senryu to me points to a fact of human nature: though we know what is true and essential, we relegate it to something insubstantial, because we would rather concern ourselves with the easier thoughts and actions to digest, such as mindless entertainment, and the routine of life. To be concerned and sympathetic each day is difficult, as we mostly put our attention on the mundane. This senryu is a reminder that we should keep compassion and higher thinking integrated in our lives.

On a more technical note, the sound of the poem is populated with strong “d” sounds in “Day,” “Diary,” and “drawer.” It is akin to the sounding of the drums of war.

The phrasing is succinct, and the lack of punctuation works well to let the words come as they are, without adding over-emphasis.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

Here is additional commentary from members of Haiku Nook, a group of haiku poets on Google Plus:

After reading it, in a broad sense, I’m sorry that the victims might be forgotten on Memorial Day and in the writer’s personal meaning, she might be touched by Anne’s Diary after Memorial Day. So, I think of Anne’s Diary as a symbol for victims.

– Rika Inami

This evokes a few scenarios. Is Anne a relative (wife, mother, sister, daughter?), an old lover, could it be Anne Frank? Could be any of these, and more. I’m thinking it is the The Diary of Anne Frank, and how we tend to put our memories away for awhile, take them out now and then, peruse them, put them away.

– Dana Grover

Anne Frank was the instant go-to for me, she being the only person named Anne whose diary I have ever read. It is difficult to imagine other readings of this piece, except for the possibility of highly personal ones.

Philosophically, I think Anne Frank barely breaks the surface of the modern consciousness. It might be more accurate to revise it:

Memorial Day –
Anne’s diary unmoved
from its drawer

– Eric Lohman

I thought of Anne Frank also. I guess it’s just an automatic connection?

– Edwin Lomere

Yes, how we tend to forget important people and events as time passes. This haiku creates a feeling of being human—that we forget bigger things, because at times we are so engrossed with our own personal affairs. So sad because those bigger things are also important, if not, more important to us as thinking human beings.

– Willie Bongcaron

What do you think or feel about this haiku?

Posted in Senryu

Antonietta Losito’s Childhood Home

childhood home
I straighten my back
before entering

© Antonietta Losito (Italy)

This is something we do that is inexplicable, and often unconsciously. But the poet, through her observation, noticed this familiar, but intriguing action. What is the meaning of straightening one’s back before coming to one’s childhood home? A multitude of interpretations come to mind: you remember the words of your parents to keep your back straight, you want to return to your childhood days somehow by making your back straight as it was when you were a child, you become more alert when you enter your childhood home, it could reference the purity you had as a child and now you are trying to pretend you have that purity still, or it could be that you await your parents inside the house and you want to show you are a good child of theirs by keeping your back straight.

A straight back shows confidence, healthiness, and is often associated with youth. It is almost as if the poet wants to become who she once was when she enters her childhood home, though it is not possible.

This tension, this situation of limbo, is a common theme in senryu and haiku, but it is subtly referenced in this poem. The poet is an adult, but may feel as if she is a child at home—essentially feeling like an adult and a child at the same time. This uncertainty is spiritual, in a way, as when we are certain of something, that means we have come to a dead end in our awareness. Not fixing ourselves on specific ideas allows us to grow and to advance in our spiritual awareness.

The sound of the senryu lends to its meaning. With the “o” sounds, you can feel the longing for being a child once again. The senryu’s language is straightforward, but has many implications. It is a real “sketch of life” senryu.

I think in a sense, each of us yearn to enjoy our childhood self again, for its innocence, wonder, and fresh awareness. This senryu brings this pining to the fore of the reader’s mind in a casual but intimate way.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

Posted in Senryu

Mutamagawa’s Fart

the great monk’s fart
totally forgotten

– Anonymous

(From the Mutamagawa, an anthology of senryu in 1750)

Most senryu were written anonymously in the 1700s in Japan because of their often explicit and personal nature. In senryu, no one and nothing is safe or sacred enough to escape being written about in a critical or joking way.

In this instance, we have a humorous senryu about a senior monk. Though the first line is funny, the second line has overtones of spirituality, believe it or not.

The last line is an invitation to a riddle: why was the great monk’s fart totally forgotten? Well, in Buddhism, you are supposed to live in the present moment, and be beyond thoughts of the past and future.

There is a story of a man who shouted obscenities at the Buddha, but when he learned that it was the Buddha who he spoke to crassly, the next day he met with him. He said, “I’m sorry for saying all those bad things to you the other day.” And the Buddha replied, “What do you mean? I live in the moment.”

This senryu is expressing this teaching, albeit in a silly way. It even shows how great the monk really was as a teacher if his students could forgot about his fart.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky




Posted in Senryu

Yokoi Yayū’s Heat

the well digger
comes out into the floating world—
the heat!

Yokoi Yayū (1702–1783) (Japan)

Before we get into this senryu, let’s take a look at the poet himself. Yokoi Yayū was a Japanese samurai best known for his haibun, a scholar of Kokugaku, and haikai poet, though he was also an expert in tea ceremonies and martial arts.

He learned haikai from Mutō Hajaku and Ōta Hajō. Hajaku and Hajō were pupils of Kagami Shikō, a leading disciple of Matsuo Bashō. Mori Senzō, a student of old Japanese literature, compared his hokku to senryū, and said they were not as interesting as his haibun. Yayū has been described as a master of haibun, and Nagai Kafū called Yayū’s haibun a model of Japanese prose.

Though Yayu was highly respected for his haibun, we are going to go over one of his senryu, or short poem pondering the foibles of human nature.

There is something in this senryu that some readers might not be familiar with: the floating world (ukiyo). What is it? Well, the floating world is a term that describes the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo-period Japan (1600–1867). The floating world culture developed in Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo), which was the site of many brothels, chashitsu, and kabuki theaters frequented by Japan’s growing middle class. The ukiyo culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto.

The term ukiyo (when meaning the floating world) is also an ironic allusion to the homophone ukiyo (憂き世 “Sorrowful World”), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release.

So, like many words used in literature, “floating word” has at least two connotations. This open-endedness is one of the main features of senryu and haiku. It is important to have an open interpretation in senryu and haiku, as there are only a few words used, and you want readers to get the most they can from those words.

The juxtaposition in the senryu is intriguing because “the heat!” can mean at least two things. It could be the heat from the day and the feeling of being in the now when struck with that heat. On the other hand, it could be a play on the idea that hell is hot, (where the well digger was digging), and he came up to the surface with a surprise that the same heat that hell had was present on Earth. In a sense, the poet is hinting that hell is on Earth, and that it is not so supernatural after all. This idea of hell also coincides with both definitions of the floating world.

As you can see, senryu, though often humorous, can also have a lot of depth and introspective ideas. Senryu are more about conveying thoughts, and haiku are more about conveying a mood, and ultimately the human heart in connection with the natural world. Each genre has its place in literature, and can equally stir us towards being better people.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky


Posted in Senryu

Antonietta Losito’s Wishes

Trevi Fountain—
a beggar steals
other’s wishes

© Antonietta Losito (Italy)

Otata’s bookshelf, November, 2016

The Trevi Fountain is a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing 26.3 meters (86 ft) high and 49.15 meters (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. An estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, although it is illegal to do so.

With this context in mind, we can see this senryu as commentary on those in need and the power of wishes. With the surprising last line, we can get a mix of emotions: a witty laugh, a reflection on the weight of our wishes, and maybe an introspection on how we treat our homeless members of society.

We can get a witty laugh because of the wordplay, but many times senryu use puns and witticisms to reach for a deeper meaning. It could be that the poet wanted us to think about how much wishes mean. Most people have many wishes, but rarely act upon them. The beggar taking the wishing coins could be a demonstration of the frivolousness of our wishes if they are not put into action.

We can also ponder if the supposed power we put into these coins with our wishes will be transferred to the beggar. Maybe he is not only begging for money, but begging for being able to wish. Many of the homeless have no way to get out their circumstances, and cannot even afford to wish.

The money thrown into the fountain for charity may in fact be collected and put in the pockets of the wealthy. The beggar might have the right to distrust the city and its politicians, and collect the money for himself, making the charity transparent. He is in fact committing a righteous act by accepting the charity money directly.

As one can see, what might start as a witticism can turn into a deep introspection on human nature.

In a technical sense, the most prominent sound is the letter “s,” giving the impression of the sound of a fountain. With just 7 words and 12 syllables, Losito has packed a lot of meaning and emotions in a small space—which is a mark of a fine senryu poet.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky

Posted in Senryu

Laughing Waters’ Thanks

life ended 
thanks for playing

© Laughing Waters

This senryu accomplishes a contrast of two opposing moods in the same piece. That is difficult even for the most experienced writers.

1. Our mortality and briefness in this world conveys a serious finality. We are finite and god/God is there with the poet. Perhaps god is just “looking” on as the scene unfolds.

2. Then, there is humor in that it is also god/God giving the poet a memo on her life and referring to it as a role (playing) or even a game–especially a game.

This removes the finality a little since “god” might have another role/game up “his/her” sleeve. We don’t really know and that unknown aspect adds poignancy to the “memo.” It leaves the reader wondering what is meant, possibly after the memo has been received.

This one actually gets away with personifying “god,” if it is, indeed, a memo.

In haiku, we avoid personification of the natural world so it can remain part of the natural world. Clouds, for example, wouldn’t be “crying” but they could sure be used in an image set against another image of a person weeping, crying, lamenting, etc.

– Edwin Lomere

Posted in Haiku, Senryu

Mark Meyer’s Answers

This is definitely a Zen-tinged haiku or senryu (I would place it in the senryu box). With its humor, it shows the frustration of learning and of unlearning.

have I learned nothing?
only conflicting answers
sensei laughing

©  Mark Meyer

“Have I learned nothing?” is a common feeling someone gets when they are learning something new–and in the case of Zen, it could be for “advanced” learners as well. It could have two meanings: learning what nothing is, and learning nothing at all. The question is itself a conundrum. In Zen, feeling emptiness within–having a lack of ego and conditioning–is a “goal” to achieve. Learning something is not quite the goal of Zen: usually, it is about unlearning what we have learned.

The second line makes more sense in the context of previously mentioned statements. Answers in Zen are usually malleable and practitioners of its art try not to stick to ideas.

We don’t know the exact reason the sensei (teacher) laughs. It may be in the humor of asking this question in the first place, the teacher seeing the contorted face of the student, the teacher recognizes the student is making a joke about his learning, or feeling joy from knowing that he does not need to know answers, or all of the above.

In the poem, you can feel the frustration and comedy in the moment. It is simply written, but gets straight to the point. The “l” sound runs through it with “learned” “only” “conflicting” “laughing.” To me, the “l’ sound gives it a lilting feeling, which makes it more whimsical.

The simplicity of this piece has a lot to it actually: philosophy, anti-philosophy, and the endearing relationship between a student and a teacher.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky