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Learning Syllabic Forms

Haiku & Zappai

Haiku is a form with three or more lines following the short-long-short, 3-5-3, 2-3-2, (5-7-5 traditional) of approximately twelve syllables. Haiku are written about nature, the seasons, a beautiful moment in nature, an emotional experience while in nature, or change. No title. (Kigo required). No rhyming. Season word list: https://yukiteikei.wordpress.com/season-word-list/ & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_kigo. 

My version of How to write haiku HERE.

close up photography of cherry blossom tree
Photo by Bagus Pangestu on Pexels.com

Let’s talk about haiku… What should haiku contain?

  • Choose a single moment. What is the significance of that moment?
  • When we write haiku, we share two interdependent images. Do these images have a cause-and-effect relationship? Did you only write half a haiku by sharing only one image?
  • Suggest a season. A haiku is not a haiku without a season word. When we write haiku without a season word, our poem becomes less a haiku and more pseudo-haiku.
  • Don’t say too much. Provide what is essential, but leave the rest up to your reader.
  • Follow the order of perception. Check how you’ve presented the images. You might need to rearrange them.
  • Engage the senses. Show don’t tell. Haiku should never explain or draw conclusions.
  • Use internal comparison. How do your images interact?
  • Use the power of suggestion.
  • Haiku is the poetry of nouns… but check to see if you have added verbs. Verbs give your haiku movement. Cut unnecessary words.

This list comes from Lee Gurga. He states:

“Haiku is… about discovery, not invention. It is about what is essential, not what is entertaining. Haiku is about sharing, not persuading. Haiku is about showing, not showing off.

Haiku—A Poet’s Guide, pg. 116

Zappai

Some of what I’m seeing lately is called zappai, or pseudo-haiku, which is not truly haiku. Just because a poem has three lines and twelve to seventeen syllables, doesn’t make it a haiku. If your poem does not feature a season word, it’s not a haiku. It’s haiku-like or pseudo-haiku.

Zappai means miscellaneous haikai verse in Japanese. Some of these poems are written as a joke—think spam haiku, gothic haiku, sci-fi-ku, etc. Zappai is closely related to senryu, featuring a touch of humor. Zappai are not senryu! Senryu features irony in its structure.

If a poem sounds like an aphorism, epigram, proverb, or fortune cookie wisdom, it’s usually a zappai.

Don’t be fooled. Zappai are not haiku. We should not aspire to write zappai.

Gurga states, “while zappai were recognized as a form of poetic entertainment, they were not recognized as being as high an art as either haiku or senryu.”

Zappai are controversial. The Haiku Society of America refers to zappai as “miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse,” although a more accurate definition to me is syllabic poetry that “includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku.”

READ: What is Zappai?

READ: The Distinct Brilliance of Zappai: Misrepresentations of Zappai in the New HSA Definition

More Haiku Definitions

In the world of haiku, there appears to be little agreement about the zappai form. The only genuine statement is that you aren’t writing true haiku unless you use a season word. For all other haiku-like forms, they seem to break down into:

Branded haiku — is a kind of haiku that tries to follow the Japanese rules as much as possible.

Generic haiku — means that by popular usage, the word haiku evolved to cover all three-lined poems written in seventeen syllables or less.

For our challenges, we write haiku or senryu because we desire to write the way the ancients taught. And, as poets and haijin (haiku poets), we take our craft seriously. ❤

Many thanks to David of The Skeptic’s Kaddish for asking the hard questions. He gets a ⭐️ for his question. I’ll continue to research pseudo-haiku and let you know what I discover.

29 thoughts on “Haiku & Zappai”

    1. I will do my best. For now, if your haiku doesn’t have a kigo (season word) you know it’s probably a zappai. The season words will be another exercise for us. For example, the word “quilt” could be a season word for winter because we tend to use quilts to stay warm. I believe we should think outside the box with the season words because we all live somewhere different. Your winter is milder than my winter, etc. is the way to think about season words. I’ll write a post about season words. That should help. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Through my research I’ve learn that Zen Buddhism and Asian history and culture are all part of these forms. I want to pay respect to the masters by writing the forms as close as possible to what they intended the forms to be. I love learning about the Japanese forms, too. 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Dear Colleen and Diana,

      This detailed explication of haiku and zappai is indeed highly commendable and worthy of recognition. Thank you for your excellent effort. It has been a pleasure to read your delightful and well-presented post. As a short poem, haiku is indeed a gem in its own right for avid poets.

      My shortest poems are usually in the form of quatrains. There are very creative ways for two poets to interact. You might be very interested to know that I have been involved in collaborative poetry. There are two examples. The first can be demonstrated by my post entitled “👑 Reign not SoundEagle🦅’s Flight, For I seek thy Crested Might ⚜️“, available at

      https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2022/08/17/reign-not-soundeagles-flight-for-i-seek-thy-crested-might/

      Usually, poets do not bother to explain how they have composed their poems. However, I occasionally make a very good effort at explaining the inner workings of my poems, especially in this said post. I welcome your feedback there.

      Yours sincerely,
      SoundEagle

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Dear Colleen and Diana,

      The second example of collaborative poetry is far more elaborate and expansive, insofar as one of my best English poems, which has a tetrapartite structure and is fully illustrated and also dynamically animated, has been translated into Chinese by a very talented bilingual poet, who has taken on the challenge in stages. In general, when someone has mastered Chinese to a very high level, they will even be able to translate a rhyming English poem into a Chinese poem that also rhymes! This is very difficult to achieve, as most translators dealing with any language(s) do not have the ability to ensure that the poem also rhymes perfectly in another language when translated.

      You can see this highly successful example of translating poem at one of my posts, which is entitled “If My Name Were Moon Tonight… (假如今夜我的名字叫月亮…)“, and is available at

      https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2022/06/16/%e5%81%87%e5%a6%82%e4%bb%8a%e5%a4%9c%e6%88%91%e7%9a%84%e5%90%8d%e5%ad%97%e5%8f%ab%e6%9c%88%e4%ba%ae-if-my-name-were-moon-tonight/

      Please enjoy!

      Yours sincerely,
      SoundEagle

      Like

    1. Thank you. I’ve been researching the Japanese forms in detail. Some of these concepts are hard to comprehend. Zen Buddhism and Japanese history and culture are all over these forms. I like to respect the masters that came before us by writing the forms the way they were meant to be written. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Dear me! I think I need to go back to all my poetry posts over the last 2 years, since I found a neat way of expressing my thoughts, and recategorise them. 🤪🤣🤪

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Colleen, Thank you for this enlightening lesson but my head is spinning and I have to read it again to follow the whole way of writing a haiku, which is not so simple! Nobody goes into the details while writing a haiku and just let it flow, thinking of syllables but it is much more than that. I admire your research.

    Liked by 1 person

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