Susumu Takiguchi, UK
There is a special ‘laboratory’ at the World Haiku Club where a new experiment has been pursued on the subject of the so-called senryu. The ‘laboratory’ is located at WHCsenryu, and within its parameters, various tests and exercises are being performed in order to achieve the objectives of the experiment. In a nutshell, the experiment is to drop all definitions and conventions of senryu which have been in use outside Japan, and to start again from scratch with only Japanese senryu as a guidance—but not as the be-all-and- end-all. In other words, the aim is not to learn Japanese senryu or to write senryu like them. The aim is to create a new form of works with the help of Japanese senryu and hope that will be a new and true form senryu.
The main characteristics of Japanese senryu are summarised as okashimi (humour), ugachi (insightful and penetrating observations) and karumi (light-heartedness), though not all of these need to be present in all senryu, except perhaps for karumi. In dropping all non-Japanese definitions and conventions, the comparison between senryu and haiku, and the common practice of asking whether a particular work is haiku or senryu are particularly avoided as misplaced and causing confusion. In other words, at WHCsenryu senryu is pursued and developed as senryu in its own right and in relation to no other genres, especially haiku. In this sense, whether or not haiku has similarities or differences with senryu is totally irrelevant. In this special feature, we try to show some of our efforts in this unique experiment.
Let me take Japanese tea ceremony as an illustration. In the pre-modern time, those invited to a tea ceremony were asked to leave swords and other items before entering the tea room through an entrance deliberately made small (one could not enter with the swords on). Thus, once inside everybody became equal regardless of their social status and was treated as such. In a similar way, members of WHCsenryu are asked to leave preconceived ideas and definitions of senryu each time they enter WHCsenryu through a narrow entrance. (However, it is not easy for them to do so because unlike swords, the things they need to leave at the door are all held in their mind. If they can apply the Zen practice of ridding oneself of all the unnecessary and harmful thoughts and preconceptions in order to empty their mind, it would be ideal).
A special feature of this issue’s WHCsenryu column is Bakumatsu and Meiji Underground Verse Forms, by Dean Brink, Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at St. Martin’s University, Seattle Washington, US. His article examines the history of senryu in Japan, along with other related popular verse forms, and in it, looks at ugachi in senryu. Professor Brink is a senryu writer, himself, a member the Hokubei Ginsha in Seattle.
Featured in WHCsenryu Notebook are articles and senryu selections highlighting the aforementioned objectives and exercises which have been in progress at the World Haiku Club’s online senryu forum. If you would like to join us, please go to the light blue box in the left side column with hyperlink which will take you to the WHCsenryu forum’s YahooGroups homepage.
And directly below, please open the Editor’s Choice hyperlink to read the commentary, then follow through to enjoy the selections from your WHCsenryu submissions.
Selected for Commentary by Susumu Takiguchi, Editor
only the ink remains
Carol Raisfeld, US
EDITOR’S CHOICE: THE GRAND BEST
Commentary by Susumu Takiguchi, UK
only the ink remains
Carol Raisfeld, US
What strikes me first and foremost as distinct when reading this senryu is its cleverness. Not cleverness for cleverness’ sake. Senryu is in a sense about exercising our wit. This work certainly has outwitted others. Of all the factors that make it a clever senryu, the one I particularly wish to mention is that the full nature of the gossip column is depicted in the way converse to the more usual expression. Namely, instead of saying that the gossip column is full of smears, it says that there is nothing in the column which is not a smear except for the ink in which the column is printed. This reverse expression makes the senryu far more eloquent in its depiction of the sordid, false and ribald nature of the gossip column, which in turn is a reflection of us humans.
The word ‘gossip column’ conjures up an image of cheap and dirty newspapers or magazines from the association of ‘gossip’ which is dirty, untrue and cheap (what is called ‘tabloids’ in Britain). However, in this senryu the ink is not smeared, indicating rather that they are expensive and glossy magazines. They must therefore be full of gossips about celebrities, TV personalities or politicians. The celebrity worship is one of the most depressing faces of our life. All this is a mirror-image of the decadence of modern time which has a rich surface but is filth and cultural poverty beneath it. Such a flash of penetrating satirical insight is called ugachi in Japanese senryu.
As for the basics of this work as a WHCsenryu senryu, it uses senryu-like words and topic (‘gossip’ and ‘smear’), has a sense of humour (okashimi), is light-hearted and yet deep (karumi), has brevity and style, demonstrates a twist (hineri), unexpectedness or surprise (odoroki or igai-sei: one expects to hear about the contents of the gossip but one is told, instead, about the ink), has clever wording (e.g. ‘remains’ indicates that everything else has been proved to be falsity and uncouth filth), displays mockery and satire, and above all ruthlessly reveals the ills of our society. Gossip magazines sell because of the high and enduring demand for them. We feed on what they provide us with. And what they provide us with is fool’s paradise. Therefore, we are enjoying looking at our own absurdities.
Thus WHCsenryu senryu is a good way of looking at the frailty, weaknesses, foibles, absurdities, defects, flaws and warts and all of ourselves. These are what make us human as well as lofty idealism or moral high horse. That is why comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin.
I have been following Raisfeld’s senryu for some time now and feel strongly that with this senryu she has come to grasp the essence of WHCsenryu senryu. The penny, it seems, has dropped. I can almost feel that inside her there is a kind of satori that has occurred with this senryu. Here, she is no longer comparing senryu with haiku and asking the age-old pointless question of whether or not this is senryu or haiku. There is absolutely no need to take such a circuitous and nugatory approach for her. Once you get it, you get it. The reverse is also the case: unless one grasps what WHCsenryu senryu is by instinct or by practice one would never get there.
I have asked her what senryu means to her and I am glad I have asked that question. Here is her answer:
“As a poetic genre in its own right, senryu is liberating for me. I enjoy exploring its boundaries. Whether it be witticism or penetrating satire, senryu provides me a platform that allows for freedom of expression within a short form, while at the same time allowing the use of poetic devices such as simile, metaphor, puns or parody. The challenge of creating a scenario of human comedy or drama in three short lines is an adventure within the adventure.”
Read other Senryu selections.