5/7/5 vs 3/5/3 & 2/3/2 Haiku & Senryu Styles

I removed the poetry contest post from “Failed Haiku” that I shared on my blog a few days ago. It upset the owner of Failed Haiku that we use the traditional 5/7/5 format for Haiku and Senryu in my poetry challenge. When I suggested that I would include all forms in my weekly challenge, he responded:

Well, it is a real ‘form’ in Japan and in the West. 5/7/5 is NOT the way to write poetry in my opinion.

You are the very reason we all publish real haiku. Teaching elementary school poetry is nothing to be proud of.

He further stated:

“There is no group of society existing in English Haiku that enforces, at all, the 5/7/5 syllable count in English.”

British Haikuhttp://britishhaikusociety.org.uk/
Haiku Canadahttp://haikucanada.org/
Australian Haiku Societyhttps://australianhaikusociety.org/

It’s true that most serious poets use the 11 syllable Haiku or Senryu form of 3/5/3. Some poets don’t write their poetry into three distinct lines – they use one. All of this has to do with the translation of Japanese into English. In fact, Basho’s poetry was based on breaths, not syllables.

It was my full intent to sponsor a poetry challenge that would excite writers into trying syllabic poetry. I wanted participants to have fun and play with words and meanings. I used the traditional Haiku & Senryu format as it is much easier to write. I had no idea that I would offend “real” poets.

I’ve read more Haiku and Senryu in the traditional format than I have in the more rigid form of 3/5/3. Most of the poetry books I own contain Haiku and Senryu written in the traditional format. Now, to be fair, that doesn’t make it right or wrong.

Many contests will ask you to write your Haiku and Senryu in this more abbreviated format. So, I will add the modern 3/5/3, and the modern 2/3/2 structure to the Haiku and Senryu portions of the challenge for anyone who wishes to use that form. I’ve updated the Poetry Challenge Cheatsheet too. After all, the challenge was created for us to have fun and to help poets practice and write poetry in preparation to enter contests or to submit our poetry for publication in other periodicals.

FORMS IN ENGLISH HAIKU – KEIKO IMAOKA on ahapoetry.com states:

Today, many bilingual poets and translators in the mainstream North American haiku scene agree that something in the vicinity of 11 English syllables is a suitable approximation of 17 Japanese syllables, in order to convey about the same amount of information as well as the brevity and the fragmented quality found in Japanese haiku. As to the form, some American poets advocate writing in 3-5-3 syllables or 2-3-2 accented beats. While rigid structuring can be accomplished in 5-7-5 haiku with relative ease due to a greater degree of freedom provided by the extra syllables, such structuring in shorter haiku will have the effect of imposing much more stringent rules on English haiku than on Japanese haiku, thereby severely limiting its potential.


Bottom line… if you decide to enter a syllabic poetry contest, investigate their rules and procedures. NaHaiWritMo.com does advocate the 3/5/3 format and you can read about that here: Why “No 5-7-5”?

Onward and Upward, my poetry writing friends.

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About Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

Colleen M. Chesebro is a Michigan Poet who loves crafting syllabic poetry, flash fiction, and creative fiction and nonfiction. Colleen sponsors a weekly syllabic poetry challenge, called #TankaTuesday, on wordcraftpoetry.com where participants learn how to write traditional and current forms of syllabic poetry. A published author, Colleen is also an editor of “Word Weaving, a Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse, also found on wordcraftpoetry.com. Colleen’s mission is to bring the craft of writing syllabic poetry to anyone who thinks they can’t be a poet. Recently, she created the Double Ennead, a 99-syllable poetry form for the Carrot Ranch literary community at carrotranch.com. Colleen’s poetry has appeared in various anthologies and journals including “Hedgerow-a journal of small poems,” and “Poetry Treasures1 & 2” a collection of poetry from the poet/author guests of Robbie Cheadle on the “Treasuring Poetry” blog series on “Writing to be Read." Colleen published “Word Craft: Prose & Poetry, The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry,” which illustrates how to write various syllabic poetry forms used in her Tanka Tuesday challenges; and a collection of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories called, “Fairies, Myths & Magic: A Summer Celebration,” dedicated to the Summer Solstice. She contributed a short story called “The Changeling,” in the “Ghostly Rites Anthology 2020,” published by Plaisted Publishing House. Find Colleen at Word Craft: Prose & Poetry at wordcraftpoetry.com.
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  1. I am sorry that you have been snapped at Colleen, I have had remarks like that aimed at my poetry too.💜💜💜

  2. D.L. Finn, Author

    Now I’m throughly confused about Haiku and didn’t know there was a more ridge form. I enjoy free verse, but I am open to structure … sometimes:)

  3. People seem to feel very strongly about poetry forms–especially the Japanese forms–it seems to me. I’ve seen some that insist haiku can only be 5/7/5 and others not. I’ve also seen some that insist haiku must always contain a season word. You are right though that people should always read and follow the guidelines carefully contests or submissions. Each one is different! 🙂

  4. I take great issue with the comment ‘teaching elementary school poetry is nothing to be proud of’ and I know a fair few ‘real’ poets who would take issue with anyone lecturing on how poetry should be written.
    While I love free verse, half the beauty of poetry is that it provides the opportunity to play around with form. It also, quite literally, crosses languages, cultures, and generations. Half the difficultly with getting people to read and write poetry is the idea that it requires an education in poetry and a level of what I can only call ‘hoity-toity’ to understand it.
    Allowing flexibility within form (such as with a haiku) gives poets a little encouragement to try out a form they may otherwise have shied away from.
    Anyone who values perfection in form above the content and intent deserves to be muttered about quietly, but very angrily beneath my breath.
    (Apologies for the rant. I think you do wonderfully with you challenges, and you are encouraging and kind.)

    • Carol, thank you. You said exactly how I feel! And, I appreciate your rant. I took great offense at the email exchange. I hate anything that stifles creativity. I want to encourage writers to experiment with syllabic poetry because I feel like it requires us to use a different part of our brain. It helps us think about word choice and the brevity of language much like flash fiction limits our words. I’ve added the additional forms so now, there isn’t much more this gentleman can fuss about. I’ll not reblog his posts again. 😍

  5. I’m dashed! Since when did fun get to be so serious?

  6. So sorry this happened to you, Colleen.

  7. Seems nasty and narrow-minded to me.

    • I felt that, too. Clearly, I had stumbled into his territory. He was right about the forms; I knew that, but I would have said things so differently. I was very kind to him in the emails. Some people just want everything their way. 😀

  8. First of all, what constitutes a ‘real’ poet. Are we all not creating poetry here? Like calling Indie authors, not real writers. So sad when people don’t know how to get off their high horse. Buh bye, we won’t miss you snarly guy. Yay Colleen! Let’s just play the way we’ve been doing. You don’t like it, LEAVE. LOL <3

  9. I think some people take themselves a tad bit too seriously…

  10. So sorry to hear that this happened. It all art. One must read the rule of each contest they enter. Much love.

  11. He was unnecessarily rude. Argh

  12. OMW! “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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  14. My goodness! I was wondering what had happened to your post. The Failed Haiku guy’s response is one reason I’ve had no interest in syllabic poetry. Sheesh, if someone is going to be that pedantic, he should stay in the Academy. Maybe we should sponsor a haiku slam.

  15. What a butthole that guy seems.

    If it makes you feel better, I think enough people like you that he’ll be losing a bunch of people as potential followers/participants/submitters for the rest of his life.

  16. This reminds of the time on my ex website, when I posted a coloring picture of a tyrannosaurus rex in a standing pose that I drew. I made it available for children to download and color.
    I got an email from someone who couldn’t believe that I drew the trex standing up. The person told me that trex’s kept more hunched over and streamlined. And that no self-respecting trex would ever stand up.
    Well, I was surprised, it’s a coloring picture after all and a free one at that. So I gave myself 24 hours to think about an answer.
    Over the course of the time, I realized this might be a child who is interested dinosaurs and was encouraged to email me about the proper trex stance.
    So, I wrote the person back. I complimented their knowledge of the trex and encouraged them to continue in their pursuit of Paleontology. I nicely told them that my trex drawing was for entertainment and not scientific research. And then I thanked them for the email. I didn’t hear back from them. But I was glad I had the where-with-all to handle the situation with kindness.

    People are curious beings, aren’t they? Especially when you’re trying to spread joy and entertainment to get folks interested in wetting their poetry pens.
    I admired your reserve and careful way of dealing with the opinion of a perfectionist.
    You go girl! 🙂

    • Awww, E. C. Thanks for your lovely comment. In these emails I told him he was rude and he escalated his comments. Finally, I removed the reblog and told him not to contact me again. I’m still dumbfounded by his attitude. But then, most people baffle me! LOL! He was right, but if he would have read any of my instructions on Haiku he would have read that I already had included the abbreviated form in my instructions. He jumped to conclusions and made his own judgments. It’s all good to follow rules but we must learn to accept all forms of poetic expression. I’m not fond of freestyle poetry because generally it has no form. But I read it and enjoy the poetic creativity that went into it. Thanks again for your kindness. You’re always a lovely supporter. ❤️❤️❤️

      • It’s sad it happened. I can’t figure out why someone has to be so negative against folks just trying to have a bit of fun in expressing their creativity. Good thing you nipped it in the bud. I’m with you on being baffled by most people too. They do make life interesting though.
        I’m not a big fan of freestyle. I find freestyle poetry more enjoyable if I can hear it read by someone who knows the intent of emotions of the verse, with the highs, lows, pauses and expressions.
        Thank you for offering your blog as a platform to learn and enjoy many styles of poetry and verse.
        Thanks so much for your compliments, you’re so sweet, you made me smile. 🙂 <3

        • E.C. in April it will be six years since I started blogging and you were my first follower ever! Can you believe it? Hugs and love to you, my friend. <3

          • Wow! It’s hard to believe. Time has flown so very fast. 6 years in April. I’m honored to have been your 1st follower. Blogging along beside you is a special part of my life. I’m looking forward to many more years of our blogging and smiles. Hugs and love to you too, my friend. <3

          • Here’s to many more, E. C. ❤️❤️❤️

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  18. Hugs, Colleen! Hope this doesn’t mean there will be no future poetry challenges.

  19. your challenge, colleen
    screw you, mister uppity
    you can take a hike

    Former haiku/senryu prompter who requested 5/7/5 syllable count

  20. A true “have you nothing better to do moment”. This is suppose to be for fun, it’s
    not homework. Never mind him Colleen. I like the way you handled it.


    • LOL! Thanks, Pat. It’s so silly to squabble over form. It must be very important to him that he is among “the real poets,” as if he equates himself to that distinction. I appreciate your support. <3

  21. So sorry you had to get such a senseless email, Colleen. You’ve created such a friendly atmosphere for us to come and enjoy. It’s a shame some bad egg had to put in his 2 cents worth. You handled it very well. Hugs, my friend.

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