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Poetry Magnum Opus

Senryu and Zappai


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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Japanese Verse

Senryu is a Japanese syllabic verse that deals primarily with human nature and is often expressed through humor. It developed in the 18th century and is named after Karai Hachiemon, pen name Karai Senryu, who was a haijin (writer of haiku) and judge of comic verse contests. Senryu were originally poems of the merchant class and often made fun of corrupt officials and professionals.

The official's child---
How well he learns to open
and close his fist!

The focus of the modern Senryu can be just about anything as long as it has a human or humorous slant. Senryus are lively, often humorous and sometimes even vulgar.

The main characteristics of the Senryu are energy or liveliness in the focus and choice of words, humor as revealed in human nature and use of subjects such as relationships, family, professions, children and pets. It is written in the same frame as the haiku, 17 syllables or less, 2 units of imagery and 1 unit of enlightenment.

So if you are wondering if a 3 line, 17 syllable poem is Haiku or Senryu, you can pretty much place the serious poem in the Haiku column and the more human, humorous poems as the Senryu. (but there are humorous Haiku and serious Senryu, go figure..)

The elements of the Senryu are:

  1. a poem in 3 lines or less.
  2. syllabic, 17 syllables or less.
  3. commonly written in 3 lines but can be written in 2 lines and can be written with fewer syllables, never more.
    • L1 5 syllables describes image.
    • L2 7 syllables, adds conflicting image or expands first image
    • L3 5 syllables provides insight (the ah ha! moment)through a juxtaposed image.
  4. written as a natural human experience in language that is simple, humorous, sometimes bawdy or vulgar.
  5. presented with an energy or liveliness in the focus and choice of words
  6. often humorous
  7. written in the moment.
  8. an imagist poem (draws the humor from the image)
  9. untitled but can be #ed.

Some of my own senryu: ---Judi Van Gorder

small child ignores call,
parent warns and begins count,   
"Daddy, don't say fwee."


some roads meander
others flat out ask for speed
don't forget your map


fire ignites within,
flame mushrooms to the surface
autumn days


pelican's head bobs
beak bulging with trigger fish,
shore's stand-up comic

dial swings to eighty
and road ahead zips behind ---     
siren sounds

militant peace march
anti-war protestors brawl
an oxymoron

Zappai is a silly senryu. I read this in a newletter at Writing.com. It didn't give a source and I've yet to research further but I wanted this included here. Basically, this form is written just to have fun.  Other than adhering to the small frame of 17 syllables or less, no other rules apply. Instead of an Ah-ha moment it should have a Ha-ha moment.   You could say that considering the original intent of Haiku Fridays in our Playground should be renamed Zappai Friday.


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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