day moon —
the poem sounded better
last night




(originally published in ko 27.4, autumn-winter 2012)

17 Responses

  1. Annette Makino Says:

    Ha! I had to chuckle in recognition of this one! A great senryu and a refreshing use of "moon."

  2. Jer Says:

    To quote Homer Simpson "It's funny cuz it's true."

  3. Norman Darlington Says:

    This is great :-)

  4. Seren Fargo Says:

    I've lost count of how many times this has happened to me. Delightful to see this common (and often bewildering) experience turned into a senryu – and a quite successful one at that!

  5. ArtsySF Says:

    moon glow
    tree shadows

  6. Peter Newton Says:

    day moon —
    a thought bubble
    for my daydream

  7. Lorna Cahall Says:

    good chuckle…all so human

  8. Jan Dobb Says:

    Oh, yes, how true!! And I like the jux of 'day moon' A bit paler, of course, that the brilliant night moon.

  9. Madhuri Says:

    Hmm..can relate to this!

  10. seaviewwarrenpoint Says:

    Love it!

  11. haikuapprentice Says:

    Am I missing something? This looks like haiku to me? Did the author indicate that they wanted their poem judged as a "senryu"?

    I think, unless the author indicates they consider the work to be something other than haiku, then good manners means we as readers should respect their poem and treat it as intended – as haiku.

    Especially because as soon as people start labelling someone else's work as "senryu" it usually indicates they don't think it is really "good enough" for instance, or "profound enough", to be haiku.

    In Japan, of course, no one "seriously" writes senryu today to publish. They were only ever throwaway verses for bawdy company. But the translator R H Blyth popularized a false distinction for English readers, to disparage poems and poets he did not approve of. In English, we have plenty of opportunity for sharing our bawdy verses among friends, however the distinction of "haiku" and supposed "senryu" is artificial, misleading, and frankly insulting to the experience of the poet. It is not one that exists among haiku writers in Japan.

    Indeed, I can find dozens of poems in the work of Basho, Buson, and especially Issa, quite similar to this poem by Forrester, but which misguided English-speaking readers would probably call "senryu" – before they looked at the name of the author! In fact, that most classic of all genuine haiku, Basho's "Old Pond" frog-poem, would by this disparaging classification system be labelled "senryu", and perhaps passed over with a satisfied smirked by a modern reader mistakenly trained to think there is some sort of distinction to be made.

    As soon as you say something is "senryu" you are disparaging it's significance. And therefore you cut yourself off from the opportunity of encountering the depth in simplicity that the haiku author is striving to capture. In fact, even as soon as you see someone else has called something senryu, the beginning reader immediately will approach it in a different frame of mind. By such labelling – or rather, by mislabelling – you are depriving yourself and possibly preventing others from sharing the opportunity to properly encounter a poem on its own merits, and deeply entering the poet's experience of some aspect of life or the world

    Please, please stop calling poems senryu, unless the poet specifically asks you to!

    I think Forrester's poem is a genuine and profound haiku, well worth lingering over.

    For a start, referencing "moon" connects the work to an entire cultural tradition in Japan. Moon viewing recurs frequently in the work of Basho, Buson, Issa and even Shiki. The moon is one of the three "great beauties" of the natural world, which every cultivated individual, and even ordinary Japanese, wanted to experience at their aesthetic greatest (the others being blooming cherry blossoms, and stars). "Day moon" is therefore a fascinating juxtaposition. All of us have seen the moon in the daytime. We know it has none of the glory of a full moon at night. Therefore this day moon invokes a feeling of something past it's prime, or perhaps an opportunity lost.
    The next line, "the poem sounded better" , calls up fresh images of – poetry parties, poets reading aloud their contributions. Specifically I am led to think of the renga parties such as those in which the great haiku poet Basho was so frequently a contributor. Basho in his 1682 travel journal "Visit to Kashima Shrine" specifically set out to watch a harvest moon over the shrine, but when he arrived the weather was overcast and rainy. He and the other members of his party wrote several haiku expressing their disappointment, but Basho's is profound and reflective:

    the moon swift
    the branches still holding
    the rain

    Forrester's poem concludes with the brief line, "last night".
    Obviously this can be connected to the previous line as a complete phrase: "the poem sounded better last night", and as many reader's comments have indicated, this is an experience well known by haiku poets. We believe we have written a fine poem, until in the light of day and on further reflection we realize is actually not so great. That reflective, self-critical experience itself is profound, as well as poetic.

    But I think another reading, however, is intended to be taken by breaking this phrase where the poet has chosen to divide the second and third lines, and read the final "last night" separate from what goes before. Then the mood changes subtly, the emphasis being on "last night". There is a sense of finality, of loss, which resonates with the melancholic sense of the diminished glory captured in the first line. Here is sabi, that prized Japanese sense of loneliness. And combined with the rustic sense of imperfection, incompleteness mentioned in the poem we have another classic Japanese zen aesthetic – wabi. So Forrester has combined cultural resonances with Japanese aesthetics with a mood of wabi sabi. Truly a haiku poem worthy of Basho.

  12. @DreamsOfTaos Says:

    I think you're imposing yours or others' definition of senryu onto the commenters here. It's doubtful any had the above in mind when deploying the term. True, "senryu" may be used by the misguided as a put down of a haiku, but such is not always the case — I believe Sonia Sanchez has described senryu as a means to explore the city of the soul, or quite a different use from the way Blythe or the unnamed Japanese you invoke have used the term. The folks below, who may speak for themselves, seem to be using the term as it is frequently invoked here, to describe a poem that hits upon our shared human nature. There us nothing insulting about that, and I don't think an author's permission is necessary to offer such an observation — SMA.

  13. haikuapprentice Says:

    Hello SMA and thanks for replying. I concede I may have gone over the top in my ranting, and I certainly didn't mean to offend any of the earlier commentators.

    It is clear that the word "senryu" has clearly acquired different meanings in English.

    Some of them simply mean "haiku focused on human affairs", but since they are still "haiku" I think the use of the term senryu adds nothing. Indeed many of the haiku of Basho, Buson and Issa deal with human affairs, and we just call them "haiku".

    Some use the term to mean "light-hearted or humorous haiku" – again something which any reader of anthologies will find among the haiku works of the great masters, and which therefore do not need a different label.

    Others use the term to mean "a failed haiku" which seems to be a judgment disparaging the work of someone.

    I cannot see any benefit of continuing to use a label which in English clearly has no set or agreed definition, and which really adds nothing to the appreciation or enjoyment of the poetry, but which has the potential to confuse readers or offend poets and even worse, discourage new writers.

    And so I still believe as readers we should hesitate to apply too readily any label, and focus our comments on the qualities of work itself, which really ought to stand on its own.

    If the author identifies that they have written something they call a senryu, that is up to them. Though I really wish they wouldn't, for the reasons mentioned above. It doesn't help us appreciate it.

    Obviously, I may be tilting against windmills by arguing against the label "senryu". But I hope at least I can encourage readers to stop and think; to look longer at every haiku poem; to delve more deeply, and hunt out any subtle resonances that the poet may have included. Then we are appreciating poetry – regardless of labels.

  14. Alan Summers Says:

    Along with Mark Brooks I helped found haijinx – humor in haiku which may be of interest to readers:

    Also, I find senryu a highly respectable genre but understand and acknowledge that others have issues with this genre, and appellation.

    A new book showing how vital senyu can still be is called: "Pieces of Her Mind: Women Find Their Voice in Centuries-Old Forms" published by Omega Publications.

    Here are two quotes:

    Although the Japanese poetic form, senryu, began more than two-and-a-half centuries
    ago as an often bawdy form of verse focusing on human nature, it developed into a form that accommodated many aspects of the human experience. In the early twentieth century, Japanese immigrants in the United States began using senryu to document daily human activities in response to periods of cultural upheaval. In doing so, they instigated a tradition that continues in English-language senryu to this day. Multiple traditions of English-language haikai [body of literature], including not only senryu but haiku and tanka, exist in America, and varied traditions of senryu certainly have been sustained in order to address the vicissitudes of human experience. The tradition founded by Japanese immigrants, however, remains one of the most vital traditions in the American senryu of the past century.

    Written in the Face of Adversity: The Senryu Tradition in America by Ce Rosenow
    Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature at the University of Oregon’s Clark Honors College USA.
    Senryu are short aftertastes like amuse-gueule, or small arms visual gunfire, and potent as longer satirical poems. The examples in this book create shredded shooting gallery targets within the bull's-eye area, and will help re-invigorate senryu and give a boost to the confidence of new and established writers alike.

    Its bittersweet, ironic, poignant, truthful, painfully revealing verses will delight the taste buds of readers as I tend to think honesty has a higher register in senryu, if well done. Even if we don’t want to see the honesty of senryu verse, it’s there as checks and balances in our own lives: It feeds a need of a different place than haiku can accomplish.

    Senryu writers often write what we’d like to say, what we actually dare to think, but are too intimidated by peer pressure, or perceived pressures of society. The irony is that those pressures are often endured by the very people we thought of as the very representatives of peer pressure itself. Senryu unlocks this conundrum! This torturous inner conflict we have with each other and society’s mores, customs and superficial barriers can unravel for a few glorious seconds, with reverberations that can last the whole day if we are lucky.

    Alan Summers for:
    Pieces of Her Mind: Women Find Their Voice in Centuries-Old Forms
    Omega Publications (2012) ISBN-10: 0985035064 ISBN-13: 978-0985035068

    "Pieces of Her Mind: Women Find Their Voice in Centuries-Old Forms" is the first anthology published exclusively by contemporary English Language women poets of three types of short Japanese poetic forms (senryu, kyoka and haiga).

  15. Martha J. Says:

    Hi all, You must have done a superb career. I most certainly will surely delicious that plus in my personal advise to my pals. Most likely they are benefited from this site.

  16. golonka Says:

    There’s a big interest in learning foreign languages in modern times. People believe they can succeed using watching Japanese videos. A lot of people don’t have the money for enrolling in courses. Thus there’s interest in ways to immerse passively. These are good times to be learning languages.

  17. Dragon Says:

    A simple and innillegett point, well made. Thanks!

Leave a Reply