In this week’s Haiku 52, I decided to take a look at the distinction between Haiku, Senryū, and Zappai. While my Haiku 52 project includes all three of these similar forms of poetry, both Senryū and Zappai are strikingly different from Haiku; in my opinion, it is simple to lump them all together and call them by a single name, but I also think it is important to know the distinctions between them.
Perhaps if I were a well-respected poet, I would feel much more strongly about the distinctions between these three forms; as a novice, I don’t feel particularly bad about calling them all Haiku. Anyways, I’m ramble. On to the examples.
Haiku involves a kigo, which is a seasonal reference. It also involves a kireji, which is a cutting word; this type of word doesn’t exist in English, so punctuation is often used instead. The purpose of the kireji is to separate two distinct images, which are then tied together with the seasonal reference. The 5-7-5 structure is a typical convention, though it can be literally any structure as long as the Haiku is seventeen syllables or less. My example:
The sun warms the earth,
A bird prepares his love songs.
Summer arrives soon.
Senryū don’t have to feature a kigo or kireji. They follow the same format as a Haiku, though they tend to be about human foibles rather than nature. Senryū tend to be somewhat cynical and darkly humorous. My example:
He laughs, shortening the fuse;
Three fingers fewer.
Zappai is a phrase used, sometimes derogatorily, for poems that are like Haiku and Senryū, but lack the elements of either. The Haiku Society of America defines Zappai as “miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse (usually written in 5-7-5) with little or no literary value.” which is hardly a shining sentiment. To me, Zappai is usually about the deeply personal, “in the moment” reflections of the everyday person. This is where I would put Haiku about hamburgers and swamp ass. My example:
Turn the ignition
The engine only goes click
Time for a starter
I hope that this has cleared-up a bit about what is a Haiku and what is not. As I said at the genesis of this project, I will be posting Senryu and Zappai as part of this project. This is partially to add variety, but also to explore the value of Haiku’s “lesser” kin as a worthwhile literary pursuit. If you want to learn more about Haiku and its relatives, the Haiku Society of America is a good place to start, as is Wikipedia, and your local library.