Forms (Senyru)

For March 2010 Tom McDaniel of our Poetry Society of Tennessee (PST) sponsored a monthlycontest  (PST members only) with the form senyru (Human nature and its problems, 5-7-5).

The members of the newly formed northeastern branch of this chapter (in the Tri-Cities of TN and surrounding area) searched the internet and poetry forms books to determine advice on writing the senyru. They found varying interpretations and samples – some of which contradicted each other.

Thinking that there may be a clue in the sponsor’s available poetry, I found a November 2008 PST newsletter (Tennessee Voices Bulletin) which listed Thomas McDaniel as the Poet of the Month for December 2008. In citing his accomplishments, it also stated “Tom is very knowledgeable about Oriental verse forms, and he has spoken to the Society on several occasions about haiku and other such poetry forms. Halloween was upon us when he submitted his material; hence, he elected to send this senryu in honor of the season.  (Titled: Masquerade).”

Since I do not have permission from Tom, I did not reprint his poem here.

Some members pointed out that generally oriental forms are untitled and they didn’t see the human nature and its problems in this sample. I thought perhaps the human element was a reference to a werewolf.I also stated that the newsletter publication was in 2008 and the poet’s experiences and training may have changed since that time.  

Unfortunately, the contest deadline loomed and there was not enough time to consult the sponsor/judge. I expect Tom would have provided us more guidance, if time was not a factor.

So all this begs the questions: Is it a hard and fast rule that oriental forms are not titled? Is there one source which could be used when deciding how to write a specific form? Is there a recommended website or book on forms in general and specific to the senyru form? Should the judge provide the title of the poetry form book or Internet site which is used for his/her judging criteria?

What do you think?


3 thoughts on “Forms (Senyru)

  1. I know about Haiku but never heard of the other one. Is it necessary for pieces to have a title? I think it would be terribly difficult to judge or do much with something that had no name since in giving it a value what could you say, except “The No Name poem.” Of course, this may just be part of a culture that needs neat little titles, names, and boxes for everything. It has worked well for me, however, so I will continue using names and titles for my work.


  2. I guess all of my worrying about this form and learning as much as possible about it really paid off. I won first prize in this contest! It was judged blindly so I don’t think my blog post influenced the sponsor. Also my friend Ben Dugger, who helped me rewrite my senyrus and research the form, won third place!
    Thanks, Tom McDaniel.
    We still would welcome your comments and advice for future reference.


  3. This is a long comment of some running conversations with Ben Dugger, Jim Collier and Myself concerning the senyru form.

    BEN: Here is what Kathy Lippard Cobb says in her article re cause and effect.

    “9) Avoid cause and effect in haiku — where something in one part of the haiku causes action in the second part.”


    heavy rain–
    my shirt clings
    to my body

    “It’s not only boring, it’s too obvious. You can have cause and effect, IF it’s contained in one part of the haiku.”


    a leaf spirals
    in the summer wind–
    his good-bye letter

    “This kind of cause and effect is o.k., as it’s contained in one part of the haiku.” (her comma splice, not mine!) “Then, you can add something else for the third line, such as I did here.” (again, not my choice of punctuation!) “I use a good-bye letter to juxtapose with the leaf. These are two very lonely images. You can add whatever you like in the third line. Don’t tell the reader they should feel lonely, show it.”

    “There ARE haiku that have cause and effect, where something in the first part of the haiku, causes action in the second half.” (author needs to learn how to use commas!)

    “However, usually, there is another level of meaning present. It’s not just simple cause and effect, as in my “heavy rain” example.”

    My sense of cause and effect is a bit different,I suppose, than what others may have. I view “cause” as the agent which NECESSARILY brings about the effect, not POSSIBLY doing so. For example, in the author’s “heavy rain” poem, if a lot of water (heavy rain) falls on certain fabrics (perhaps a cotton shirt) being worn by someone, it will NECESSARILY be the cause of the shirt clinging to the body. There appears to be no MAY or POSSIBLY involved in this situation.

    On the other hand, in my poem re “fourth try at marriage” the attempt to marry again does not NECESSARILY mean that a divorce will follow, though the POSSIBILITY may be great. The satiric part of this piece is meant to be line two where the speaker expresses his cynical or pessimistic attitude that this marriage attempt will probably end up like the previous three marriages. Line three is supposed to elicit dark humor: go ahead and put her name on the house deed; she’ll wind up with it anyway.

    I don’t know if this clears up the confusion any, Rose, or just makes it worse. Clear as mud to me. I think when it works it’s brilliant. When it doesn’t it falls flat. There seems to be a need for a double meaning. The poet leads you one way and then twists the path.

    These are NOT easy indeed! What happens if you want someone to speak to someone else . . . are quotations marks allowed? What about capitalization? I read where most senryu (as well as haiku) are not capitalized, and the only things capitalized are months and holidays. If so, I believe this is a really stupid idea! Supposing you wanted to refer to a city (los angeles look silly) or a world-known person (jesus christ). What will the judge(s) of our monthly contest allow/disallow? I can guarantee one thing: if I take the time to study this form, try my best to follow the (seldom followed by others) rules, and end up with some form of disqualification due to form, the judge(s) will get verbal hell from me!

    You have a nice one, BUT I read in an on-line article to “Avoid cause and effect in haiku — where something in one part of the haiku causes action in the second part.” The example given was:

    heavy rain–
    my shirt clings
    to my body

    Again, I quote the author of the article, “It’s not only boring, it’s too obvious. You can have cause and effect, IF it’s contained in one part of the haiku.” The example given was:

    a leaf spirals
    in the summer wind–
    his good-bye letter

    Now, the question is: what rules for writing haiku carryover to writing senryu? Who really knows? Who really follows which set of or whose rules? The article, entitled “Haiku and Senryu,” by Kathy Lippard Cobb, is found at

    You may take a look at this and see if it helps, but most of the article is about haiku. More than 5 pages of the article relate to haiku, about 1 page is given to senryu. She does offer 1 example of senryu which seems to be very good, but who knows? I’ll try to write a couple more senryu tomorrow afternoon.

    Here, there is no cause and effect, period. Secondly, the resulting sneezing is suggested rather than made obvious, which may be something a judge would like to see. This example would put a grin on anyone’s face who has ever been in church when the minister has called for a minute or two of absolute silence for private prayer. Who hasn’t heard a child (or some adult) bellow out a loud sneeze just at the point of total silence?

    JIM: I guess the example from our judge included a title, “Masquerade”, but then I don’t know for they rarely, if ever, have titles. Attached are further comments from yours truly from the internet 2009 – 2010. I don’t have the others Email addresses. I could not open the list that you sent earlier today. Please share this with the others.
    Ben, one source with the Haikuey Society of America suggests the use of a colon, long dash or ellipsis after the first or second line. (in the attached) I am so thrilled in that I generated about 180 Haikuies before I found out I have no idea what I’m doing. I suspect there may be very few more generated. Not until I find out what the “Masters” mandate – in Japanese – which I will never understand. Sayonara! You see, I can’t even spell in Japaneseee.


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