Poet’s Market Definitions

Over the years I’ve had several interviews and features in Poet’s Market, the annual poetry directory published by Writer’s Digest Books. On 8 March 2004, after discussion with the editor, Robert Lee Brewer, I submitted the following proposed revisions to glossary definitions in Poet’s Market, mostly for Japanese forms, and many of them were published in the 2005 edition and in subsequent editions. The italicized text was my commentary to the editor. If I were to do this again, I think I might define renga and renku a little differently, make one or two other tweaks, and add a definition for kyoka, but at the very least these definitions were a vast improvement over some of the previous ones. Poet’s Market continues to use most of these definitions to this day.

haibun
Originally a Japanese form in which elliptical and often autobiographical prose is interspersed with haiku.
[I suggest cutting the rest of the existing definition.]

haikai no renga
[no change]

haiku
Originally a Japanese form of a single vertical line with 17 sound symbols in a 5-7-5 pattern; in English, typically a three-line poem with fewer than 17 syllables in no set pattern but exhibiting a two-part juxtapositional structure, seasonal reference, imagistic immediacy, and a moment of keen perception of nature or human nature. The term is both singular and plural.
[I’ve left off “brevity” because that’s inherent in the length of 17 or fewer syllables; I’ve left off “spontaneity” because this good effect (how a haiku seems spontaneous when you read it) is too easily confused with spontaneity as a method of writing; and I’ve left off “illumination” because it overemphasizes the Zen aspect of haiku, which critics and scholars have said is a misleading and inaccurate perception of haiku.]

renga
Originally a Japanese collaborative form in which two or more poets alternate writing three lines and then two lines for a set number of verses (such as 12, 18, 36, 100, and 1,000), with specific rules for seasonal progression, placement of moon and flower verses, and other requirements. (See also linked poetry.)

renku
The modern term for renga, and a more popular version of the traditionally more aristocratic renga. (See also linked poetry.)

senryu
Originally a Japanese form, like haiku in form, but chiefly humorous, satirical, or ironic, typically aimed at human foibles. (See also haiku and zappai.)

tanka
Originally a Japanese form in one or two vertical lines with 31 sound symbols in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern; in English, typically a five-line lyrical poem with fewer than 31 syllables in no set syllable pattern, but exhibiting a caesura, turn, or pivot, and often being more emotional and conversational than haiku.


The following are proposed NEW definitions:

caesura
A deliberate rhetorical, grammatical, or rhythmic pause, break, cut, turn, division, or pivot in poetry.

hokku
The starting verse of a renga or renku, in 5, 7, and then 5 sound symbols in Japanese, or in three lines usually totaling fewer than 17 syllables in English; the precursor for what is now called haiku. (See also haiku.)

rengay
An American collaborative six-verse thematic linked poetry form with three-line and two-line verses, in the following set pattern for two or three writers (letters represent poets, numbers indicate the lines in each verse): A3-B2-A3-B3-A2-B3 or A3-B2-C3-A2-B3-C2; all verses, unlike renga or renku, must develop at least one common theme.

sijo
Originally a Korean narrative or thematic lyric form in which the first line introduces a situation or problem that is countered or developed in line two, and concluded with a twist in line three; lines average 14 to 16 syllables in length.

waka
Literally, “Japanese poem”; the precursor for what is now called tanka. (See also tanka.)

zappai
Originally Japanese, an unliterary, often superficial witticism masquerading as haiku or senryu; formal term for joke haiku or other pseudo-haiku.

zeugma
A figure of speech in which a single word or occasionally a phrase is related in one way to words that precede it, and in another way to words that follow it.