Red Kelpie Haiku Group # 14 December 2017

On Sunday December 3rd the weather . . . specifically the threat of possible heavy rainfall . . . caused us to change our venue from the Botanic Gardens to the more easily accessible Federation Square. Four RKHG group members, Madhuri Pillai, Robyn Cairns, Janet Howie and I, met in the Atrium but held our meeting in a quiet hallway between the bookshop and a gallery: an ideal spot, thanks to Robbie’s explorations. Apologies received from Earl, Marisa and Taka.

Our discussion topic, prepared and led by Madhu, was ‘Senryu’. What is it? What might distinguish EL senryu from EL haiku? Is EL senryu just an inferior sort of haiku? Should we feel insulted if someone refers to our ku as senryu?

sketches from life –
my eraser
leaves smudge marks

(Lorin Ford, Failed Haiku#23, Nov. 2017)

The louring cloud cover on the day of our December meeting seemed to match the grey area in which, nevertheless, EL senryu has not only survived but thrived, often by any other name.

There have been great arguments on the subject of EL senryu:

“. . . the term senryu should be discontinued because that is not what we are writing. Personally I have never read anything yet in English as degrading as real Japanese senryu are. None of us would accept or publish such work.” – Jane Reichhold (‘Senryu As a Dirty Word’, first published in Haiku Canada Newsletter, 1991)

“Maybe close to half of English-language haiku, including many of the best ones, are in fact a form of senryu, . . . I think that this is fine.” – Haruo Shirane (‘Beyond the Haiku Moment’, Modern Haiku, XXXI:1, 2000)

Even in Japanese practice, it seems impossible to objectively discern whether many ku are haiku or senryu:

“The distinction between the two genres has been tenuous, however, from early on. In recent years the blurring of the differences has become such that Ônishi Yasuyo has said, “If someone asks me how senryû differ from haiku, I tell the inquirer that the only distinction that can be made is by author’s name”—that is, if the author is known to write haiku, the pieces he or she writes are haiku; if the author is known to write senryû, the pieces she or he writes are senryû. Ônishi herself is sometimes listed as a senryû poet, sometimes as a haiku poet.” – Hiroaki Sato ( ‘A Brief Survey of Senryû by Women’, Modern Haiku Vol. 34.1,2003)

Some have chastised editors for publishing EL haiku and senryu in the same journal, or the same section of a journal. Some have insisted that “it’s all haiku”. Some, such as Jane Reichhold (after accepting that there is such a thing as EL senryu and that senryu are written by women, as well as men) have campaigned to get editors to distinguish senryu from haiku via typographical rules applying to senryu only.

Madhu researched and provided ample interesting material on senryu and forwarded it to all in advance, as is our custom. Each of us found and brought along ku we liked and thought were senryu and some also brought a few of our own ku that might be senryu. We considered and examined satirical, funny and serious senryu.

Discussion was lively and we all agreed that looking closely at senryu and the issues surrounding it had opened our minds to the varieties of senryu as well as haiku and what Charles Trumbull has called “hybrid haiku”, after reading Matthew Paul’s statement “. . . some haiku that are tanka-like, wherein a statement of mind or emotion, or an abstract noun or thought, is juxtaposed with (usually) an observation of nature.” (review 1, A Hundred Gourds 2:4, September 2013)

The usual ginko part of our meeting was cancelled as Janet and Robbie had other commitments. Madhu and I stayed and chatted in the sheltered, heated outdoor area of Beer Deluxe, watching a pair of enterprising sparrows. The sun broke through one big blue hole in the sky later, as we waited at the front of Federation Square among the seagulls.

As usual, those who attended will write up to 3 haiku (or senryu) inspired on the meeting day and subsequently provide and receive c & c on these submitted ku.

Lorin Ford & Madhuri Pillai enjoy a stroll through Federation Square

The Red Kelpie Haiku Group meeting for autumn 2018 is scheduled to be held on Sunday 18th March We welcome guests and new members. Enquiries from haiku writers who might like to join our group or be invited along as guests, and who have at least three haiku published in edited, English-language haiku journals (print or online) should be directed to Lorin Ford by email: haikugourds at gmail dot com, with ‘Red Kelpie Haiku Group’ in the email subject bar.

— Lorin Ford, Melbourne, December 2017

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