Friday, October 15, 2004

Defining haiku, senryu and haibun

Definitions of literary forms vary of course and many gray areas exist. This is as it should be, in my opinion, with art. True art knows no boundaries. Nonetheless, some conventional definitions help frame our understanding. Currently, there is a review and recommendation for changes in these definitions by the Haiku Society of America (HSA). See

haiku: 1: An unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which Nature is linked to human nature. It usually consists of seventeen onji.

2: A foreign adaptation of 1, usually written in three lines totalling fewer than seventeen syllables.

(From every issue of Frogpond (


personal effects
the scent
of the cedar chest

w.f. owen

(Frogpond XXVII, No. 2, 2004)

flipping the comforter to
a lighter shade of blue

Yvonne Cabalona

(A New Resonance 3: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA
22504-1661, 2001, Eds. Jim Kacian and Dee Evetts).

senryu: 1: A Japanese poem structurally similar to the Japanese haiku but primarily concerned with human nature;
often humorous or satiric.

2: A foreign adaptation of 1.

(From every issue of Frogpond (


sunny day
the tiny hole
in her black stockings

Yvonne Cabalona

(A New Resonance 3: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA
22504-1661, 2001, Eds. Jim Kacian and Dee Evetts).

she cleans the ring
around the tub

w.f. owen

(1st Place Brady Senryu Contest, 2002)

haibun: "a sort of verbal collage that contains passages of prose combined with haiku" (Lee Gurga, Haiku: A Poet's Guide, Lincoln. Illinois: Modern Haiku Press, 2003).



The pocketknife lands in the black Texas mud just beyond his foot. In this game called “split,” we take turns throwing a knife outside our friend’s position. He stretches a leg out to the knife, pulls it from the ground, then takes his throw. The first person to fall while stretching loses. This Yankee kid named Ed stretches out, loses his balance, then falls to the hoots and howls of my buddies. Keeping with tradition, I wipe my blade clean on his clothes. From New York, Ed talks funny--he calls our knife game “mumblety-peg”--but he has a nice Case pocketknife and turns out to be our high school’s best football player. After a while, we got used to his northern accent.

September sky
hearing that a friend
was in the first tower

w.f. owen
(Modern Haiku, 35:3, page 92, 2004)

haiku books, journals and web sites


bottle rockets: A collection of short verse.

Haiku: A Poet’s Guide, Lee Gurga (Lincoln, Illinois: Modern Haiku Press), 2003.

Haiku Society of America. See:

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings. Matsuo Basho translated by Sam Hamil (Boston, MA: Shambhala), 1998. (Especially good for understanding haibun).

Red Moon Press:
Publishers of: Red Moon Anthologies, New Resonance, Contemporay Haibun,

The Haiku Handbook, William J. Higginson with Penny Harter (Tokyo: Kodansha
International), 1985.

The Heron’s Nest.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Indian summer haiku

Indian summer
a spent salmon
washes ashore

w.f. owen
1st Place, Henderson Haiku Award, 2004

Indian summer
a fish slips through
the gill net

w.f. owen
3rd Place, Henderson Haiku Award, 2001

Indian summer
rust on our hands
from the swing

w.f. owen
3rd Place, Haiku Poets of Northern California Award, 2003

Indian summer is that period after a cool or cold period of weather in which there is unusual warmth. As I understand it, in Japanese haiku, it is referred to as "little spring." I especially like writing about Indian summer because it is a transitional time, a time in which new life or a "last fling" of activity is felt before hibernation. To me, the exciting times to write haiku are those of change, transition and life/death. It also is a time in which our mortality is experienced--the ebb and flow of life and death.



bill tells the story of his stroke on Super Bowl Sunday. a baseball player, golfer and high school honor student. much of that taken away as he sat in a recliner during halftime. he is a new advisee of mine at the College. six years, and only a sophomore. he takes one course at a time. one day at a time, he laughs. dark glasses. a white cane. he finds the buildings on campus by the colors and shapes of air conditioning units on top. recently, they repainted our building a different color, throwing off his internal map. he found his way by the different scents of flowers and shrubs bordering the sidewalks. "you turn left at the roses, then right at the mock orange. it's easy."

i saw bill only a few more times. we chatted about the new plants on campus.

humid stillness
in the bush
the frog's blink

w.f. owen

This is a haibun published in the chapbook by the same name by The Central Valley Haiku club, 2002; Frogpond, XXVI: 1, 2003 and in Contemporary Haibun 3, 2003 (Red Moon Press).

The story is from the time I taught at Texas A&M University for eight years in the late 1980's and remains among my favorites . . . None of us knows what can transpire in the time it takes to blink . . .