How To Write Senryu Poetry

Senryu poetry is a short three-lined Japanese form of poetry that is unrhymed and similar to the Haiku in structure. It contains 17 syllables or less. Instead of focusing on a kigo, or season, like Haiku does this form of poetry centers around human nature and usually has a satirical tone.

Traditionally line one has 5 syllables, line two has seven syllables and line three has five syllables, but not all Senryu poetry follows this rule. Some have 17 syllables or less.  It was made famous by the poet Karai Hachiemon, whose pen name was Senryu Karai.

The following is one of his most popular poems, which only has 9 syllables:

The robber,
when I catch,
my own son.

© Senryu Karai

The following example by the poet KuKu Kichigai has 17 syllables, but does not follow the 5/7/5 form:

Tumbling down the cliff,
I couldn't help but notice
the cherry blossoms.

© kuku Kichigai

The first step to writing Senryu poems is to think of a theme and what message is to be conveyed. Taking ideas from family life and experiences with friends and coworkers is a good place to start.

Once the theme is established, the next step is to begin jotting down ideas and phrases.  Build on those ideas until they form three lines and add up to 17 syllables or less. Senryu poetry seems easy to write but in actuality it is not easy to convey a complete message in three short lines.

The first line should set up the setting, and the subject should be the focus of the second line; the third line should use action to sum up the poem. This is a simple way to approach writing Senryu. With more practice and reading examples the writing process will become more natural.

One thing to remember when writing this form of poetry is that it is not complex. Senryu uses simple language and incorporates humor.  Here are a few more examples written by modern poets:

As if it were spring
the green mold
on the cheese

© Garry Gay

rush hour-
the blonde in the Porsche peels
an orange

©Robert Bauer

It takes practice to perfect this form of poetry. It is helpful to read the work of other poets to fully grasp the concept. Examples of Senryu poetry can be found online at various Haiku sites and at the local library.

Writing Senryu poetry can be challenging at first, but once the concept is grasped and understood this form of poetry can be fun and exciting to write.


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