Introduction to Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go

The following is my introduction to Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go (Foster City, California: Press Here, 1993), which may well have been the first-ever anthology of English-language senryu. It contains 111 senryu by six San Francisco–area poets: Laura Bell, Garry Gay, Christopher Herold, vincent tripi, Paul O. Williams, and me (you can also read my poems). We had the launch reading for the book on 23 October 1993 in Golden Gate Park, and the book won an honorable mention in the 1994 Merit Book Awards sponsored by the Haiku Society of America (for books published in 1993). While I see senryu as broader that just being humorous—it can be satirical or ironic and not merely funny—for Fig Newtons I selected poems for their wit and humour. Haiku typically celebrates its subjects, even if dark, whereas senryu often have a victim, even if that victim is oneself. In other words, haiku tend to be reverent, senryu irreverent.

 

Senryu—much of it, at least—is a poetry of laughter. This kissin’ cousin to haiku points a crooked finger at lighter sides of life and hollers “Look at this!” The humour may be achieved through puns, irony, or the truth of reality freshly revealed. And while the reader’s emotional reaction may be a quick nod, a knowing smile, or an outright belly laugh, the response to successful senryu is uniformly spontaneous. The value of senryu is clear—they show us ourselves. And like fig newton cookies, they’re irresistible.

        Most of the senryu here succeed through wry observation and surprise. Notice Garry Gay’s comedic pause created by an ellipsis, as if setting up a punch line. And watch for irony in vincent’s poems, satire in Laura’s verses, and the use of © and p symbols by Paul O. Williams and Christopher Herold. Some of the senryu succeed by making fun—of yuppies, technology, and other foibles. Good or bad, we see ourselves in these poems.

        This book began as a collection of just my own senryu. Then, in conversation with the others in this book, it expanded to the anthology you now hold (light, I hope). The topics swing from baldness (page 4), through various occupations (pages 5 to 11), cars and trucks (pages 12 and 13), shopping (page 14), growing old (page 15), children (pages 22 to 24), relationships (pages 25 to 27), dogs (pages 28 and 29), and even senryu about haiku (page 30). In between you’ll find miscellaneous and experimental poems, and one or two about frogs of mimes or Big-Bird bandaids. For the moment, distinctions between haiku and senryu are not important; if just one poem makes you chuckle, then this book has met its goal.

        While not all senryu are funny, I chose most of the poems in this collection for their humour or wit. The six poets all live in the San Francisco area, and they are among the most experienced and talented senryu writers in the region. Several of their senryu have won awards. In this book they spin a few senryu stories, let their hair down (if they have any), and generally try to have a good time. I hope this book is like a day in the park among friends, sharing a few fig newtons—and senryu, to go.
 

Postscript

In reviewing Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go in Modern Haiku (XXV:1, Winter–Spring 1994, pages 103–105), under the title “Senryu Comes Into Its Own,” William J. Higginson wrote that “The book, a first anthology of senryu in English, as far as I know, deserves a joyous welcome. Its arrival is a signal event.” He also said that Fig Newtons is “a collection with more range than these few poems [quoted in the review] suggest, and a much higher hit rating than most haiku anthologies these days. We should also bow to the careful editing that groups these poems superficially by subject, while maintaining a clear ear for variety, tone, and pacing.” He concludes by saying “The judges and editors of contests and magazines who previously published some of these senryu as ‘haiku’ should be run out of town. (Not seriously, though I wish they had as clear an idea of the differences between the two as we see here.) But for editor Welch and his cast of California senryu poets, the ticker-tape parade. Meantime, get your own copy of Fig Newtons and ease your mind.”