A FEW SENRYŪ

Hokku deals with Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature.  But here are a few old senryū, which deal instead with human quirks and foibles:

When winter comes,
The pawn shop
Is in summer.

One could say the same thing of our modern thrift stores; people get rid of winter things in summer, and summer things in winter.

And something countless people have felt in one way or another:

Too late;
One cannot put a quilt
on a tombstone.

We do not realize how much kinder and more appreciative we should have been to our parents until it is too late.

And another “too late”:

Finding out
She had a crush on me;
Fifty years after.

But this clever fellow thinks ahead:

Here with her mother;
When old,
This is how she’ll look.

If he’s really clever, this will have happened at the girlfriend stage, not the wife stage, on seeing mother and daughter together.  But of course a clever girl will realize the same thing when her blond Adonis is seen next to his bald, chubby father.

And children:

The child who fell
Goes home
To cry.

Of course!  His crying would be pointless without his mother hearing it.  It is the sympathy, the “Oh, you poor thing!  It’s all right” that is the money to be earned from the fall.

And my own variation on an old senryū:

Breaking up with him,
His angel girlfriend
Becomes a devil.

And a slight variation on one that seems appropriate with current social trends:

His older wife,
Applying face cream
Desperately.

Perhaps you have noticed that unlike hokku, senrȳu generally need no specified season.  And while we say that in hokku the poetry is not in the words but in the mind of the reader, in senrȳu poetry is simply thrown overboard.

The language of hokku is simple and ordinary, but respectable, something like a Quaker farmer; but the language of senrȳu goes far beyond that into extreme informality, and we are lucky when it does not descend into outright crudity.

Good hokku are infrequent things not to be sought out and forced; we must just be aware and open and patient until one happens.  But given the shallowness and triviality of modern society, it seems that all one need do is walk down a street to encounter senryū, for example this, which I saw today:

A day spa has opened —
In what used to be
The funeral home.

It is not hard to see how very different senryū are from hokku in spirit.  Where hokku remove the ego, dissolving it into a unity with Nature, senryū drag the ego out by the scruff of the neck and hold it up in public, letting all see how very peculiar, vulgar, and yet strangely humorous it is — and of course what they are really seeing is themselves.

David

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