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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haiku and Other Short Forms — the cheat sheet

Someone asked me for guidance. This may not be the most elegant or scholarly dissertation, but I think it works as a quick reference.

Haiku: three short lines, traditionally 5/7/5 syllables. About nature, including a word that indicates the season (e.g. cherry blossom for spring) and containing a turn of thought or juxtaposition of objects/ideas. They are not supposed to use any poetic devices such as metaphor. Ideally they should create in the reader an ‘aha! moment’.

Senryu: same form, but about people and can include humour and urban settings.

Modern haiku and senryu in English often ignore the syllable count in favour of short/long/short, as Japanese syllables tend to be briefer than English ones (I’m told). In this case they aim for shorter lines than 5/7/5. Some people even go in for one-line haiku! They often omit punctuation, too.

In our Haiku on Friday page on facebook, the lines between haiku and senryu are sometimes pretty blurred!

Renga: a chain, in which someone adds two 7-syllable (or just longer) lines to the original haiku. The next person will then write another three, and so on, until everyone gets sick of keeping it going.

Tanka: a 5-line form of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables or short/long/short/long/long. Not so strictly about nature, though they can be. Often have a romantic theme. There should be the ‘turn of thought’ and aha! moment in tanka too.

Lune: a 3-line form devised as a Western haiku, based on syllable count without all the other rules. Called lune because of crescent shape (resulting from line lengths). Two kinds:
Kelly lune invented by Robert Kelly; syllables 5/3/5. Collum lune by Jack Collum, who misremembered and taught it as 3/5/3 WORDS (rather than syllables).

Gogyohka: new Japanese form freer than tanka. 5 lines, each as long as one breath (if speaking them aloud). No other rules.


  1. Ooh! A summary like this is exactly what I've been needing to get to grips with this - thanks!

    Happy New Year to you! I'm just trying to get caught up online but I've left it far too long and it's taking forever. Hopefully I'll be back more regularly from here on...

  2. Dear Jenny, same to you and I will be ever so pleased to see you back more often. Have missed your posts!