Sunday, February 17, 2008

The origin of sherku

The concept/idea for sherku came to fruition during the 2006 Dodge Poetry Festival at Waterloo Village. There were multiple threads that managed to weave themselves together during those four eventful days.

I knew Patti Digh had done book reviews in haiku. One of my favorite writers, she is a great writing inspiration. She was unable to attend the Festival but was on my mind as I looked for an opportunity to obtain an autograph from Billy Collins for her. Fortunately, I did manage to do that and she was most pleased.

Billy Collins told the story of his creation of a new type of poem, the paradelle. It was done in fun as a parody of the villanelle and when published referenced a note giving it "some historical authenticity". Billy was surprised when some time later, he got a call from someone looking to put together an anthology of paradelles.

As a blogger, one of the early lessons I had picked up along the way was to find a term that defined you, that you could own. This term could help drive the search engines your way. I have struggled with this effort to define the singular me. What would that word be? Steve's 2 Cents reflected 'the value add' I attempt to apply. What could I do with that?

During the Festival, I met and had a wonderful talk with the wandering poet, Edmund Charles Baranowski. He had challenged me during the discussion to recite a poem that I knew by heart. I did manage to recall one of my originals (Orange numbers). When I met up with him the next day I surprised him with a sherku that I had written for him.

Yes, sometime during that day, after the talk with Edmund, it all came together. The festival music had something to do with it.

Then I tried explaining what a sherku was. I started with:

What is sherku?
A new variation on haiku.

Why a new variation?
Hey, why not. I just took the classical form of haiku and made it my own.

What do you mean to accomplish?
Writing on difficult things by focusing, by boiling down to the essence of the fewest words.

What is so different from haiku?
There are conventions that haiku follow, I will deviate as necessary.

So what will you write about?
Well, sherku will be the catchall. My running will be ruku. My work related will be busku. My educational will be edku. My hitchhiking will be hitchku. And there may be other variations on this but I think you get the idea.

I think you are crazy.
You are entitled to your opinion.

Do you have any written yet?
Yes. One, two, three.

While the extensions (booku, ruku, edku, etc.) sounded like fun... I did not proceed that way. The singularity of sherku was going to be what I needed.

I expanded the explanation to:

I introduced sherku earlier and need to respond to an inquiring mind. Instead of burying my response in a comment (which I did) I also decided that there might be value to put it out in the open as well.

The question was:
Well, I'm not good at poetry. Not to mention haiku. But, really, will you write more in-depth about this sherku of yours -- and how it related with haiku -- for a very novice kinda guy? I'd like to learn about it.

The initial answer is:
Well, it is somewhat "tongue in cheek" but very much like haiku. It differs in that is my spin on creation. I add my "2 cents worth" to it. I follow the standard form and convention somewhat and deviate as necessary.

For example, while convention calls for 17 syllables, I prefer to recommend 19.
Why 19?
Well, 17 is confining, 19 provides more (recall 2 cents). 19 is also a number from a card game called "Cribbage" where 19 is an impossible score to achieve.

Trying to condense a feeling, an image to some number (19 in this case) is an impossible task (recall Cribbage score) to try but try we must.

Or as Yoda says: "Do, or not do, there is no 'try'".

I then created some instructions:

Sherku Instructions

It is easy enough to start
You are out somewhere
Wherever something catches your eye
You take a picture
Frame it in your mind’s eye
Then begin the
Linguistic gymnastics
You have trained for since birth
Take your pen
Dip it into the dictionary
Find the word
Just that shade
Just that luster
Just that sound
So that when they open the book
Turn to this page
Read these words aloud
They step into the frame
Feel the breeze on their arm
In the shade of the hemlock grove
Hear the hissing along the trail
And stop
To see the snapping turtle

I defined sherku in sherku format:

seventeen is not enough but
two more makes nineteen
still an impossible goal

and then most recently:

focus your writing, say it
all concentrated in just
nineteen syllables

and further updated on 6/9/09

focus your message, say it
all concentrated in just
nineteen syllables

Updated 2/23/10 - found on the page for Bingo in wikipedia
"The most chips one can place on a Bingo board without having a Bingo is 19, not counting the free space. In order for this to happen, only one empty cell can reside in each row and each column, and at least one empty cell must be in each diagonal, for instance:"


  1. Hey Steve,
    I liked your blog post on "sherku"
    and linked to you at
    Cribbaholics Unanimous.

    Wow, I think THAT is a sherku!

  2. Nicely done, Joe

    By my count, if you leave off the "Hey Steve", it runs 21 syllable. So it misses the goal of 19 but hey, you added your "2 cents" and that works for me!

  3. Steve, thanks for this explanation. I really dig the addition of the extra 2 cents!

    I'm also enchanted by your instructions. They'd work as instructions for many kinds of writing.

    Funny I've been thinking about photos and wanting to have the skill to find the frames, to capture the moment, but I am best suited to doing this with words, and I should be happy with that.

    By the way I felt the breeze on my arm when I read this :-)


  4. Thanks, Joanna!

    I suppose the instructions would work for most writing. I have spent most of the time honing my writing at work, doing memos, end user communications, and presentations to senior management where it is just as critical to get each word just so.

    Keep at what you feel comfortable with, eventually you'll find an opportunity to step outside that realm and do a little exploring. Be happy whatever you do!

  5. How about this one Steve:

    "If cribbage is poetry,
    pegging is rhyme,
    19 morphs from nil to sublime"