Author Topic: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu  (Read 5634 times)

AlanSummers

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Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« on: July 19, 2013, 09:30:49 AM »
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about senryu which I hope this helps to correct over time.

The invitation is for posters to select what they believe is a good example of senryu, one that shows depth, and give a brief explanation behind their choice.


Alan Summers



Prune Juice magazine said:
“I would highly like to recommend that everyone out there interested in senryu and its history, read the article by Ce Rosenow, “Written in the Face of Adversity:The Senryu Tradition in America,” in the WInter-Spring 2013 issue of Modern Haiku.  This is an excellently written, well researched article by Ms. Rosenow and clearly shows how senryu can go well beyond light humor and satire.  As stated in her conclusion, “When its focus centers on human activities during times of great difficulty, senryu offers moment by moment reiterations of human persistence in the face of adversity.”
http://prunejuice.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/recommended-reading/

Prune Juice is a journal of contemporary senryu, kyoka and haiga published exclusively online, three times a year. It is edited by Terri French and Bruce Boynton: http://prunejuice.wordpress.com/


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.

Alan Summers
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):
http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-Her-Mind-Multiple-Authors/dp/0985035064/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356115931&sr=1-1&keywords=pieces+of+her+mind


In Pre-Islamic poetry there were lampoons denigrating other tribes called hijāʾ (satire of enemies). This genre of Arabic satirical poetry was introduced by the Afro-Arab author al-Jahiz in the 9th century where he introduced biting humor in the developing subjects of  what came be to be known as the subjects of anthropology, sociology and psychology. Well-written senryu verse cover these areas in all its sub-genres enveloping politics in particular, and family life and everything in-between where needs must. R.H. Blyth said one of the properties of senryu should be to expose pretence, and this is where senryu is master or mistress, take for example:

good ending–
too bad it didn’t start
sooner in the play

Joan E. Stern

Politics has been where senryu should stand center, but not in its political views of course:

political jokes
are very embarrassing
they get elected

Karyn Stockwell

Brutally honest when it comes to our busy don’t make our lives even more difficult existences:

dead body
litters doorway
bloody doormat

Deborah C. Kammer

The bluntness of not including articles to make the syntax smoother further showcases how we brush aside even a fellow human’s demise, if it’s in our home area.

Senryu can be as soft as a loving parent’s caress, at times, when it comes to our children:

first day of pre-school
I tie his shoestrings
ever so slowly

Connie Chiechi

Senryu is coming back into our lives, and we should welcome it for the wake up call that it is, where all too easily a casual thoughtlessness becomes a callous lifestyle choice.

Sometimes we need shock treatment in the shape of a highly focused ruthless focused sense of humor blow to the head, for a moment, and then resume our life, after we’ve been pulled up abruptly for a few seconds by something thought-provoking.

The above senryu from the above book Pieces of Her Mind.

Lampoons to Senryu, Alan Summers 2012-2013


AlanSummers

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Re: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2013, 09:34:36 AM »
PRUNE JUICE
Journal of Senryu, Kyoka & Haiga
Issue 10 : July 2013
Editor : Terri L. French
Features Editor : Bruce Boynton

Please do read this issue, as Prune Juice has been sadly missed, especially by my students. I agree with Terri's overview about good senryu being: "senryu are about finding the funny in the serious and the serious in the funny." It isn't just being funny for the sake of it, penning a joke in three lines, but something with real resonance far beyond a joke factor.

This senryu is a good example of avoiding the pitfall of a cheap joke at someone’s expense for the sake of a cheap joke or surface only observation, and I can understand why it is Terri's first example in her introduction:

survivor guilt
the carrot nose
outlasts the snowman

Cara Holman

I'd like to see more attempts at senryu that echo Cara's three senryu.

Why does the above resonate for me, and Terri French?  For me, too many people carry survivor guilt whether from wartime or peacetime, and yet the phrase that goes with the first line section brings it down to a melted down snowman with just a carrot to show where it’s been.  It’s a verse that has its joke but carries another layer or more of meaning.  Most comedians are extremely serious about their art, the art of humor, regardless of their approach live or on screen, and I feel this parallelness of serious preparation and final comic presentation, that carries over some of that preparation is worth considering with senryu.


Another exceptional senryu is by Alexander B. Joy, an interesting writer always worth hunting down:

fountain basin
a panhandler collects
someone's wish

There is the immediate surface level scene of a streetwise person grabbing coins thrown into a fountain for a wish, and their need for money, their lack of respect for another’s wish being weighed up.  I also wonder what that original person’s wish was, and had it been fulfilled?  Should they have thrown a coin into the fountain or just striven to make it happen through perseverance and hard work instead?


I'm pleased to see two current students, plus a former student appear in the issue, as Prune Juice stands alone signposting what is exemplary senryu.


There's a very moving senryu by Marilyn Appl Walker. These are the kind of senryu that haunt.

decorated —
she draws her daddy
without an arm

Senryu are not One-Joke-Ponies i.e. not one trick ponies, they have the initial bite, followed by resonance and tension, and they cover all the shades of humor, not just the easy and obvious belly-laugh, but serio-comic in a most heart-rending manner, which often Shakespeare raised to a high art.

Senryu work well with a multiple perspective as used by Shakespeare in the approaches to comedy in Hamlet, an ultimately serious and sad story, and other plays whether serious or comedic.  It’s the depth of comedy that makes something last the test of time.  Multiple Perspective is a useful technique in senryu, and is often as or more affective than when used or utilised in haiku.

Another favorite is:

doctor's office
she hears the results
of a stranger's divorce

Carla Shepard Sims

Funny on the surface, with great pun play, which turns around broad humor and the sadness of lack of privacy even in a place supposedly confidential.  Who is dissecting the stranger’s divorce, is the divorcee present or is the original person of the senryu overhearing someone’s life being torn apart or ridiculed while they are waiting for their own results into something altogether different but potentially life-changing?

Read Ernesto P. Santiago’s senryu full of light humor and yet treading lightly around kigo, or at the very least a seasonal reference which is fresh and original.  Who said senryu was inferior to haiku, that it also couldn’t contain nature (we are all nature) and seasons?

Liz Rule, Australia has this one:

my ex's wake . . .
finding bits of me
in his house

It's both funny funny from a serious event, but funny serious as she discovers her ex still had memories of her despite the breakup, and now she is the one to carry memories of him, not so much because of the break up, but because of his death at a later date. Senryu can have as much depth and layer as the best haiku.

Senryu often have self-depreciating humor ringfenced with warmth, a side of senryu often forgotten by writers and readers alike, here's a simple but fine example:


my stories
getting better and better
four fingers of scotch

Michael Rehling


Joan Prefontaine has this senryu on break ups which uses various techniques to great affect:

end-of-summer break-up
he scrapes the grill
with a wire brush

Prefontaine’s poem is very clearly and definitely senryu but on a par with the best haiku, and it also contains a season.

Enjoyed Susan Murata, US, had to read it twice because I thought short trousers first, then a sportsman, before I realised it was a dog!

Central Park spring —
her boxer's toenails
lacquered red

It has a clear Sense of Place and a season, and reminds me of the famous Gary Hotham haiku but with a senryu twist.

distant thunder—
the dog’s toenails click
against the linoleum

Gary Hotham
breathmarks: haiku to read in the dark   (Canon Press, 1999)
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1885767587/qid=1103220434/sr=11-1/ref=sr_11_1/104-1569557-1267912

Thank goodness I was able to buy a copy off Gary Hotham in person that year. Highly recommended.


But Susan's senryu is just a joy to read, irrespective of being senryu, because the humor can encourage us to make multiple re-readings, of all the other things that she has crafted into a simple 8-word senryu.  I would love to meet the human, and the boxer dog, and Central Park all rolled into one.  A real celebration of life and sense of place.

Kate MacQueen has a tour de force with senryu including a senryu version of haiga. All of them great, but the brake lights will stay with me a long long time because it's not just a simple joke to force into a senryu form of 3 lines, it's actually a lot more.

jammed in
with her anger
brake lights for miles

Gregory Longenecker has long been a producer of exceptional work, and none less than the senryu that appear in this issue.  One example:

coke habit
licking honey
from a razor blade

He produces another vital edge of senryu that we rarely see, and honey and razor is a style to consider when attempting or improving your own senryu, and of course, with any good or fine senryu, there are other layers, if you enjoy being a close reader going beyond the horizontal axis of first meaning.


Lydia Lecheva, Bulgaria gives us a thoughtful thought-provoking senryu with a lightness yet intensity that also raises the senryu bar:

long night
sleeping pills
with the coffee

Her senryu is bitter funny, with no pun intended in the obvious sense, and contains deadly serious comedic touches of the potentially darkest.

Bill Kenney’s Thanksgiving is the sort of thing Terri says she is looking for, and it's funny as only senryu can do real funny, and utterly heartbreaking at the same time.

Thanksgiving
the family gathered
in an old photo

Again, note the seasonal reference, and a strong one akin to Japanese kigo in its intensity and understoodness by a large body of the population of a country.

There's a good amount of senryu prose which I hope returns in the next issue, and amongst many, Carol Judkin's had a line of prose which in the context of the whole prose resonates:

We share yesterday’s pictures from our digital camera.

For me, it means do not live a half-life by putting a digital camera or an iPad in front of your face, but watch and engage with the life unfolding in front and with you instead.


Also look out for senryu prose from Alegria Imperial, Canada, as she carves her own niche in senryu.


There’s a tautly honest senryu prose piece from writer Dallas Hembra, someone I'll look out for again in future issues, to see how this writer goes further and further into this genre.


Also this one was chosen for the introduction, and is worth the second look, as are her other senryu in this issue:


Memorial Day
the closed sign
on the butcher shop

Michelle Harvey, US

It has a seasonal reference and has subtle undertones that underlay a deadly serious sense of humor that highlights a deadly seriousness that too many governments and corporate entities benefit from the military weapons market.

Two erotic senryu from Autumn Noelle Hall, US, which I'm pleased to see in a publication, as senryu, like haiku, can really cover all topics.

There's a great section by by Alan Pizzarelli, and another fine senryu prose piece, this time by Eider Green.

Raymond French gets his chance to be romantic in senryu, with a twist.

Terri does an outrageous senryu prose that really does get to the bottom line, and creates a highly memorable senryu 'haiga'.

Gary Eaton, Canada has some biting senryu, and I look forward to more from him in future issues.

The Confirmation senryu by Marion Clarke, UK is hilarious but also you can read a serious undertone if you want to dig deeper in your senryu. I believe senryu needn't be surface meaning only.

Pris Campbell does a tour-de-force of senryu which are biting, but contain layers as a good senryu should.

Johannes S.H. Bjerg has his own unique slant on senryu prose and haiga which I hope influences other writers and artists in this growing genre, partly thanks to all editors past and present at Prune Juice.

The popsicles senryu is heartbreaking, yes, I use that term again, from Mark Brager, another one to leap to, and discover how deep senryu are, and a worthy companion genre to haiku. 

There is so much quality in this issue. I won't say I felt all them were great, but this is a groundbreaking issue that shows senryu at its best, and supports emerging writers as well as established ones.

It's motorcycle the distance between day and dream as S. M. Abeles would say, and did in a one-line senryu.

Great great issue.

Alan, With Words

AlanSummers

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Re: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2013, 09:35:23 AM »
The invitation is for posters to select what they believe is a good example of senryu, one that shows depth, and give a brief explanation behind their choice.

Alan Summers

John McManus

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Re: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2013, 01:19:43 PM »
An excellent topic, Alan!

I have always been fond of this one by Gary Eaton . . .

behind the 8 ball
a lawyer who knows
all the angles

There is wordplay here, but it is in no way a simple pun. The wordplay offers two ways of reading this poem. Either the lawyer is a highly skilled pool player or he knows all the legal loopholes and shortcuts one may need if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

The second interpretation is my favourite of the two on offer. The subtle implication of this pool hall being full of people who need the lawyer's advice gives me a real sense of what sort of place it is and creates a fairly vivid picture in my head of the type of people who frequent it.

warmest,
John

AlanSummers

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Re: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2013, 04:22:06 AM »
Hi John,

We both discussed this senryu on another forum, about Garry Eaton's senryu (Garry with two two r's by the way  ;))

I did used to frequent pool halls in my younger days where there was always danger not far, and drug pushers, gang members, posh drunks too who were unpredictable.

Garry's senryu was actually published in Prune Juice which I'm relieved to know is going from strength to strength and an invaluable resource for all kinds of readers.

I hope Garry doesn't mind, but he really liked our replies to his senryu:

8 ball by Garry Eaton

Thanks John. I'm flattered, and I'm sorry I took so long to notice your choice. This one came out of a fairly recent experience at a pool table in a retirement community in California, where I spent a little time last winter. The tables were free, and having time on my hands, I played all comers for a couple of weeks, one of whom was a criminal lawyer, retired, who was a 'good stick', as we used to call a good player. He talked a bit about the OJ Simpson trial, and one thing leading to another, the chains of association led me to combine these two old phrases from the pool hall into a poem. Glad you enjoyed it. It was published in the last Prune Juice.

Alan, that's an acute observation about the social atmosphere in the pool halls I used to frequent occasionally, over 50 years ago. Don't know if they are still quite such dens of thieves, but back then, there was always a certain air of danger, or potential danger, and the lawyer who knows all the angles seemed to me to be an appropriate character to have found there, along with, of course, the guy in trouble with the law, or the guy, as we used to say, who was 'behind the eight ball.'

Garry


An excellent topic, Alan!

I have always been fond of this one by Gary Eaton . . .

behind the 8 ball
a lawyer who knows
all the angles

There is wordplay here, but it is in no way a simple pun. The wordplay offers two ways of reading this poem. Either the lawyer is a highly skilled pool player or he knows all the legal loopholes and shortcuts one may need if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

The second interpretation is my favourite of the two on offer. The subtle implication of this pool hall being full of people who need the lawyer's advice gives me a real sense of what sort of place it is and creates a fairly vivid picture in my head of the type of people who frequent it.

warmest,
John

S.M. Abeles

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Re: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2013, 10:01:14 AM »
Wow, a tour-de-force by Alan here (thank you for mentioning my poem as well).  Delighted to have PJ back.  It has always been bizarre to me that senryu is used sometimes as a perjorative term, and a journal dedicated to this high art is most appreciated.

As the invitation was extended to offer a favorite senryu, here is one:  April rains / I touch the face / in "The Scream" -- Chen-ou Liu (from memory, hopefully got it right).

My! Among other things, the senryu form allows one to freely operate between reality and fantasy, past, present, future, dimensions, etc., without fear of veering too far from the "haiku trail." Here Chen-ou moves between two worlds -- inside and outside the famous painting.  It is one of my favorite poems, once inspiring this attempt at homage: black city / I fog the glass / in "Nighthawks"

Given that pale imitation I'm compelled to offer a favorite of my own: icy breaths / half my life spent / reliving the past (World Haiku Review -- Dec. 2012)

Cheers,

Scott
Just a simple poet.

The Empty Sky
www.emptyskypoetry.blogspot.com

AlanSummers

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Re: Getting down to the serious business of humor in senryu
« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2016, 01:27:58 AM »
An update on senryu is that at least three senryu publications are thriving from Ershik, mostly Russian, but with the occasional English-language special edition; Prune Juice; and Failed Haiku.

Here is a piece that Failed Haiku asked me for:

The Golden Carousel of Life:  Senryu
An Application to be a) human
https://tinyurl.com/GoldenSenryu

Here's a recent judge's report by myself for the Sonic Boom senryu contest of 2018:

FOURTH ANNUAL SENRYU CONTEST
http://sonicboomjournal.wixsite.com/sonicboom/contests



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« Last Edit: July 27, 2018, 04:38:43 AM by AlanSummers »

 

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