An Introduction to Haiku – Form & Structure: Related Forms

The Haiku’s Siblings

Haiku can be defined by a few general rules if we wish. But if we leave out one of the rules, is what we’ve written still haiku? If not, what is it?

One of haiku’s close relatives is the senryu, which in modern ELH (English Language Haiku) practice is actually often interchanged with haiku. A senryu focuses on humanity and its foibles, and it sometimes possesses a satirical edge. They don’t typically require a kigo, but may mention a season. They’re generally structurally the same as haiku, and often these verses are published as haiku, though dedicated journals and anthologies observe the distinction.

Here’s one from Tominsh, as you can see, there’s no kigo:

losing his job,
the siren sounds
for others to work

—trans by R.H. Blyth

Another form that may appear similar to the traditional haiku is the gendai haiku, a verse which doesn’t feature kigo or even always an imagistic focus on nature or “zen” moments of revelation.

This style of haiku came about during post war Japan, at a time when haiku was a fierce battleground and gendai or “modern” haiku poets were jailed for refusing to fall into line with traditionalists. Their school wanted to move forward while retaining a link to the past, and incorporated new topics, such as surrealism, politics and urban landscapes in addition to new approaches to form, which were not bound by the strict syllable count. Metaphor and simile were sometimes incorporated, something which isn’t often found in haiku (which instead often relies upon juxtaposition). Gendai haiku relates to both a style and a very specific historic period, but it’s sometimes described as ‘innovative’ haiku in English.

Here are three of my favourite examples of gendai haiku, demonstrating the progressive nature of the form. This one was written in 1955 by Kaneko Tōta:

like squids
bank clerks are fluorescent
from the morning

—trans by Makoto Ueda

These two are by Hakusen Watanabe:

War was standing
at the bottom
of the hallway

—trans by Keiji Minato

Horses annihilated
spread in the shape
of a swastika

—trans by Keiji Minato

Firefly Squids in Toyama Bay, Japan

Next – a few compositional techniques.

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