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Notes: Haiga, Haiku, Senryu & Tanka

Haiga is a traditional Japanese form of poetry and art; an image with an accompanying short poem.  The evolution of haiga has grown to include various modes of expression, digital images from a variety of sources to the traditional brush and ink, watercolor, or paintings.  The short poem associated with the image has also evolved and may or may not follow the traditional forms.  However, the poem should not simply describe the image.  Rather, the poem needs to be an integral part of the whole and art in its own right. 

The poems used in haiga include haiku, senryu and tanka.  Haiku, even in English, tends to have a focus on nature. The Haiku Society of America defines a haiku as; “a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”  Senryu, according to the Haiku Society of America is a poem; ”structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.”  Some contemporary senryu highlights human conditions, but in a more contemplative and serious manner.     I approach senryu in a broad context – covering human nature from both a satirical and contemplative point-of-view.


In English, tanka typically has five lines observing a short, long, short, long, long form. Tanka is noted for being a poem of feelings which uses metaphors and figurative language not typically associated with haiku or senryu.  A tanka sequence is a poem made up of several tanka and perhaps a haiku or senryu.  


Pat Shelley in the book “Footsteps in the Fog” (Foster City, California, Press Here, 1994) states:

“Tanka ... can embrace all of human experience in its brief space with emotions of love, pity, suffering, loneliness, or death, expressed in the simplest language.  It may seem fragmentary or lacking in unity because it is more intuitive than analytical, using imagery rather than abstractions.”

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