The following definitions introduced Francine Porad’s 1993 book, The Patchwork Quilt. Some of the text, starting with the definition for haiku, is borrowed or adapted from Haiku Society of America definitions, but what’s of interest here is how Francine offers this text as a summary of her own understanding of haiku and related poetry.

What is a haiku?

A Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. The term also used for foreign adaptations of the haiku. Usually, English language haiku is unrhymed and written in three lines of fewer than 17 syllables, expressing the suchness of the moment through clear images. Haiku are also written in one- and two-line forms. Metaphor and simile are best avoided and clichés eliminated. Titles are almost always unnecessary.

What is a senryu?

A Japanese poem structurally similar to haiku, but primarily concerned with human nature. It is usually humorous or satiric. The term is also used for foreign adaptations of the senryu.

What is a tanka?

A Japanese poem that evokes a particular moment in which a meaningful juxtaposition occurs. Although somewhat similar to the shorter haiku, tanka in its usual five-line format of short/long/short/long/long lines may be subjective and include commentary. Often the third line acts as a pivot, connecting the two sections, each section enhanced or completed by the other. To quote Dr. Sanford Goldstein (Tanka Splendor, 1990), “The individual voice aware of itself must confront us in tanka.” Jane Hirshfield (Tanka Splendor, 1992) says that for her a good tanka is a captured moment of seeing and thinking-feeling that holds within itself a transformation. English-language tanka, a more recently adapted poetic arena, is still evolving.

What is a renku?

A Japanese linked verse created by the collective effort of many poets. The starting verse (hokku) determines here and now (place/season) from which changes evolve in the expanding poem. The most important feature of renku is linking. English-language renku is written in a variety of formats: all one-liners (a long line followed by a short line, followed by a long line); 3-line/2-line/3-line; 3-line/2-line/1-line. Although still a collective effort, renku is evolving to a poem written by fewer and fewer poets, with two-person renku being common today. The following excerpts are from Frogpond’s May 1990 Renku Contest discussion. “The best English approximation of the verse-rhythm of Japanese renku seems to be a poem written in thirty-six stanzas, beginning with a three-line stanza, followed by a two-line stanza, and alternating three- and two-line stanzas thereafter. This parallels the gentle longer/shorter/longer rhythms basic to renku in Japanese, which is controlled by well-understood metrics similar to the 3-line/2-line/3-line format in English. . . . Note that the starting verse of a renku is what evolved into the ‘haiku’ as we know it, with its emphasis on the here and now. The remaining stanzas of a renku usually do not have the fullness typical of a haiku, but should connect well with their preceding stanzas and provide opportunity for movement in a new direction for those following. The inner stanzas of a renku are not haiku. . . . A major point of renku writing is to move forward, from stanza to stanza, through a great variety of time, weather, environment, activity, fauna, and flora. . . . Stanzas focused on human activities and concerns should be balanced throughout with stanzas concentrating on landscapes, animal and plant life, and other subject matter.”

May the above information add to your understanding and thereby increase your pleasure while reading this collection.

Francine Porad

November, 1993