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What is Zappai?

byjthserra©

What is Zappai?

With the popularity of the internet as a place to publish, read and discuss poetry and given the attraction of short, concise, but meaningful poetry, there has been a tsunami of short, haiku-like poems appearing nearly everywhere you look. Unfortunately, in this mass of poetry, there resides an enormous amount of misconception regarding haiku and other similar Japanese forms: "Among both poets and the general public, there is a broad mass of people whose only understanding of haiku is that it has seventeen syllables and that anything that is put in the seventeen syllable, three-line form they remember from elementary school is automatically haiku." (1)

For the longest time, I was one of those poets, ignorantly writing what I called haiku. Because I was able to seemingly say a lot in just a few syllables, I soon gained the title of "that haiku expert" from friends and acquaintances. That was a title I humbly embraced as I wrote short little pseudo-haiku, hundreds of them. It was not until I began to submit my work to some of the respected haiku publications and websites that I shockingly discovered that my haiku, were not very good. In fact, some intimated that what I submitted perhaps were not haiku at all. At that point I realized there was a lot more to haiku.

For the next several years, as I studied, wrote and discussed haiku, I began developing a number of articles about the art. The articles began as lengthy emails, which I later compiled and more recently developed into some of the articles I have posted here at Literotica. For a better understanding of Zappai, we will need to consider the questions I asked in two of my articles: 1.) What is Haiku? and 2.) What is Senryu?

In both those articles I outlined a, hopefully, simple and basic set of tenants to define English language haiku and senryu. These tenants help identify a number of short, usually three line poems as either haiku or senryu. The tenants also identify a much larger number of short, usually three line poems that don’t seem to fit those definitions. What do we call these, now, unidentified poems? Some might still argue they are haiku, others would brand them pseudo-haiku, and others may simply ignore them.

Rather than ignore the poems, or simply brand them as failed haiku, perhaps we should consider finding an appropriate identification for them. A possible solution has been offered by Lee Gurga, now editor of Modern Haiku, one of the premier English language haiku publications in circulation. He indicates that: "In Japanese poetry, zappai includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku...". (1)

Gurga explains: "If we look at all of what is presented today as 'haiku,' a large number of so-called haiku are, like zappai, imaginative or imaginary, wit-based poems that are written or shared for the entertainment of the reader and writer. Unlike haiku, these poems often have no relation to nature. Unlike senryu, these poems make no attempt to distinguish between the imaginative and the imaginary. This includes things like spam haiku, sci-fi haiku and their ilk." (1)

Much like senryu, where William J. Higgensen cautioned "...I do not like suggesting that a senryu is a failed haiku..." (2 - pg.232) because often poets started out trying to write senryu, some poets set out to write zappai. To characterize all zappai as failed haiku or senryu would be unfair to those poets. Japanese zappai is part of their poetry aesthetic. Gurga does add: "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." (1)

Understanding that all short, three line poems using 17 (or less - see my article titled "Not Seventeen: More on Haiku") syllables are not haiku, or even senryu; we can now identify the poems that do not meet haiku’s or senryu’s basic tenants. To follow the Japanese form, we can call these English language zappai.

In considering many of the short poetry submitted here at Literotica, from the small samplings I have taken as a poetry reviewer on the poetry discussion board, the majority of the haiku that I have seen, based upon the definition above and in my other articles, would be classified as zappai. The remainder of the submitted haiku, would then either fall into the haiku or senryu category. As examples of each I offer the following:


haiku: Bass
            picking bugs
              off the moon

           Nicholas A. Virgilio
(2)



senryu: While the guests order,
            the table cloth hides his hands -
               counting his money.

            Clement Hoyt
(2)



zappai: Cook it in the can
          SPAM, block of cheese, brown sugar
          I can't get it out

         --Phil and Amy Timberlake
(3)




Bibliography:
1.) Gurga, Lee "Toward an Aesthetic for English Language Haiku" Modern Haiku Vol. XXXI, No. 3 (Fall, 2000).
2.) Higginson, William J., The Haiku Handbook Kodansha International Ltd., Tokyo, Japan 1985.
3.) "The Spam-ku Archive" at Spamhaiku.com.

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