From The Side of the Road… burning question: haiku or senryu?

Last week Bluegrass Today published a rerun of my first bluegrass haiku column to help set up this new one. It turned out to be a good decision because some of the responses I got helped me learn valuable new information about this poetry form.

A good family friend, Carol Ruth Kimmel, who lived and studied in Japan, and who, unlike me, actually knows things about haiku, straightened me out on an important point: a haiku must be about or have some sort of reference to nature. If it doesn’t, it’s only haiku-related (relegated to the haiku “roots and branches” stage) and should actually be considered a senryu, which is more concerned with human nature. 

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (it was the only way the salesman would leave), “Senryu often use hyperbole, parody, and wit to highlight the irony and humor of everyday life.” Sort of like a heavily condensed John Prine song. No wind whistling through tangled reeds required.

Senryu takes its name from the writer Karai Hachiemon, whose pen name was Karai Senryu, or sometimes just Senryu (or “Stringbean” in English). 

Both poetry forms originally adhered to the 17-syllable format in a series of three lines of five, seven, and five, but as with haiku, the senryu has relaxed the syllable count through the years, because everything has relaxed, from the dress code on an airplane to the use of harmonica in bluegrass.

As best as I can attempt it, these are bluegrass music-related haiku and senryu:


I love your guitar
it looks like a D-18
mahogany sides?

(I’m counting “mahogany” as a nature reference, and I intend to stand by that)

The senryu version:

I love your guitar
it looks like a D-18
but please tune it now

Here are some haiku and senryu about bluegrass festivals:


the banjos ring out
where someone built a large stage
in a wooded grove


the banjos ring out
where someone built a large stage
with no port-a-johns

Fox On the Run in both haiku and senryu form:


walking through the corn
after leaving me to die
like a weary fox


the girl took my love
and just left me here to die
that wasn’t too nice

Firing a musician from your band:


I’m letting you go
and giving you no notice
but here’s a flower


i wish it had worked
but it was a disaster
stay in touch okay?

Finally, in memory of Bobby Osborne and Jesse McReynolds, haiku and senryu versions of two of their best-known songs:

Rocky Top


corn just won’t grow here
so the locals make moonshine
and strangers vanish


I’m trapped like a duck
and you should see my phone bills
got any moonshine?

Diesel On My Tail


spring rain falling hard
while this huge truck tailgates me
feels like a bad dream


my car is tiny
the trucker behind me laughs
glad for insurance