Haiku, Senryū, Zappai: seventeen syllable poems

OK, leave it to the Japanese to have a name for the 17 syllable trash I’ve been writing.

Haiku is a type of short form poetry originally from Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases composed of 17 phonetic units in a 5, 7, 5 pattern; that include a kireji, or “cutting word”; and a kigo, or seasonal reference.

Senryū is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 morae. Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious.

Zappai is a form of Japanese poetry rooted in haikai. It is related to, but separate from, haiku and senryū. Lee Gurga defines zappai as a form of poetry that “includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku.”


I’m guessin’ that I’ve hit the mark on writing an actual haiku about 5% of the time, a senryū about 5% of the time and the rest of them are all zappai.

I’m good with that.

Of course, I couldn’t give a fuck either way. I don’t do this to appease some jerk-off poetry gods. I do this because I’m bored to tears and yet my narrative juices have dried up and now my story-mind is a useless husk.

Regardless, it’s an interesting tidbit to know that there’s an actual name to this drivel I’ve been peddling. And no, I won’t be changing the Tuesday offering’s name. Haiku purists can go fuck themselves.

Hmm, that was harsh. Being a software developer, I know what good code looks like. I know what exquisite code looks like. And, I know the effort that’s required to write such code. Adding that “Una poca de gracia”, that “little bit of grace” necessary to take a zappai to the level of a haiku can demonstrate poetic awareness and attention to craft necessary to prove one is not just a hack.

I’ll aways be a hack.

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6 thoughts on “Haiku, Senryū, Zappai: seventeen syllable poems

  1. Actually (you knew this was comin’) the 17 syllable bit applies only to Japanese onji, not our longer western syllables. That structure is also a tradition, not an imperative. Haiku is defined by its content and (possible lack of) intent. Many (MANY) years ago I was a fan of E.E. Cummings, something that is a direct funnel back to many of the principles of Haiku, without being strictly Haiku. Rather than me talk, and beyond the Wiki world, back to Basho and academia, read this. Learn something worth knowing about words. And why, as a hack, I don’t write “poetry”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exquisite absurdism.
      Jeezus, I think I’ll swear off defined writing models of any kind.
      “The science, mystery and inherent spirituality of a housefly’s beating wing.”
      It’s been said that 6 beats per second instill gratitude for garbage.
      10 implies that your life spins uncontrollably.
      And at 21? Focus becomes only a memory as your mind sails beyond the possible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Man owned a company I worked for used the bumble bee as a simile or metaphor. Fighter jets the same. My favorite line of that treatise was something about the suchness of being. And yeah, form is a bitch. It’s difficult enough, as you are aware, to build a paragraph where everything inside belongs there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ha! This is the first time I’ve heard about zappai, and yet I suspect much of what people call haiku are really that. I know the feeling of the story-mind being a husk too. Mine’s pretty much rattling in the wind these days. But there’s always the garden…

    Liked by 1 person

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