Japanese-Style Short Form Poetry (Haikai)

According to the Haiku Society of America website, haikai may be used “to refer to all haiku-related literature… including the dairies and [travel] writings of haiku poets.”


Frogpond is the HSA journal.

In my opinion, Japanese-style short form poetry is exceptionally complex and rich. It has a storied tradition with a number of masters (for example, Basho and Issa). At times I have been bewildered by explanations of differences between haiku and senryu!

Just off the top of my head, I can think of haiku, senryu, haiga, haibun, and tanka as categories of Japanese-style short form poetry. 

I will begin with haiku.

Haiku ~ “uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.” [Definition is from the Definitions Committee of the Haiku Society of America (HSA) in its Report “Official Definitions of Haiku and Related Terms” dated September 18, 2004:

http://www.hsa-haiku.org/archives/HSA_Definitions_2004.html#Haikai ,

Accessed August 13, 2010].

Here in the United States, did we all learn in elementary school that a haiku is a three line short poem with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure? Perhaps. I did!

However, most literary journals specializing in haiku and Japanese-style short poetry do not accept submissions with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure unless (possibly) the poem seems “natural” with that syllabic structure.

“Unlearning” the 5-7-5 rule has been a very difficult lesson for me to unlearn.

On his bottle rockets Press website, Editor Stanford Forrester writes “The staff of bottle rockets leans very much away from the outdated grammar school mode of … 5-7-5 haiku. Therefore, please do not send any 5-7-5 ‘haiku.’ It will surely be rejected.” [my italics]. 

Link to bottle rockets Press website:


bottle rockets is a lovely journal featuring art in addition to Japanese-style short form poetry. bottle rockets is “a magazine dedicated to haiku, senryu, and related poetry.” [bottle rockets website]. Recommended.

Note: I have two haiku published in the current issue, bottle rockets #23.

Senryu – a poem structurally similar to haiku, but one which gently (usually) pokes fun of human foibles.

 Haibun ~ prose text with haiku intermixed with the prose.

 Haiga ~ a haiku paired with a photo or image.

Tanka ~ a lyric five line lyric poem of 31 syllables or less. A much older poetry form than haiku.


Ribbons is the TSA journal.


~ I’ve used italics for Japanese words here to draw attention to the origin of these terms in the Japanese language.

~ Haiku is singular and plural. Senryu is singular and plural. This rule is similar for the rest of the Japanese terms.

My friend Seren founded the Bellingham Haiku Group in the spring of 2009. I joined BHG shortly afterwards.

Japanese-style short form poetry is a rich, vibrant tradition.

Watch this thread for some examples.

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
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7 Responses to Japanese-Style Short Form Poetry (Haikai)

  1. Haiku example:

    in the tide– / a stump, waterworn / and rootless

    Senryu example:

    in their spring– / two teens texting / together and apart

    Tanka example:

    a couple / faces away / from each other, / talking into cell phones / and smiling

    These are by me! All the best, Andy

  2. Melinda says:

    Wonderful Blog and excellent poetry. I’ve always loved writing Haikus. I’ve bookmarked your blog.

  3. Melinda, thank you so much for your kind comments!

    Best wishes, Andy

  4. April (aka 'Annika Doe') says:

    I like your blog and website. it explains, well, about the different types of japanese poetry. They are cool. 🙂
    April (aka ‘Annika Doe’)

  5. Wynne says:

    I like Haiku and only recently discovered some of the other short forms. Basho’s Frogpond is in our 2nd grade music books!

    • Hi Wynne, thank you very much for your comment.

      Basho’s haiku on Frogpond is famous.

      I’d like to invite you to join the Japanese-Style Short Form Poetry group on Writer’s Digest Community. You would be most welcome.

      Best wishes, Andy

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