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Go Wizardry

All About the Many Aspects of Go
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When I Get Lazy

Sometimes a writer just doesn’t feel like writing. The ideas somehow don’t seem to flow. At times like that, I reach into my bag of tricks and find something that everyone will enjoy and never fault me for presenting. Here is one of them.

From Kidō, July 1973

Go Senryū

碁川柳

Is the reader familiar with haiku (俳句)? They are Japanese poems that conform to three lines with a cadence of syllables of 5-7-5 in length and express feelings of emotional response to both nature and personal inner feelings. That 5-7-5 format has its origins in the rigid nature of the Japanese language. In our modern world of sound bites and Twitter, haiku are enormously relevant while having a classical resonance.

However, the exuberant side of the Japanese character is not really reflected in these haiku. They have always been written to express “wabi” (侘 = “solitary feeling”) and “sabi” (錆 = “elegant simplicity.”) Senryū (川柳) are the satirical version of haiku that capture the buoyant spirit of the Japanese mind.

Go may be considered as a “trivial” game, and so might not make a suitable subject for haiku. But the go senryū that have been composed that are enormously entertaining. Here are a few:

花みコウ隣の戦い見る余裕

Hanami-kō tonari no tatakai miru yoyū

Fighting a “flower-viewing kō” [where I have little at stake], I have time to look at the neighboring fight [on the next board].

ライバルに破るれし夜の

Raibaru ni yabure shi yoru no

Defeated by a rival, the inevitable torment in my bed at night.

And here’s a senryū by a professional as presented by Kidō:

定手を知るつ打たざる碁の強さ

Jōseki wo shiri-tsu utazaru go no tsuyosa.

While one knows jōseki, understanding all the implications is inherent to go strength. [One knows when not to play; the shiri-tsu part is hard to explain: it means that one is doing something, i.e., understanding, while doing something at the same time, here not playing]

There are many more senryū in existence and one will find enjoyment in seeking them out. The late William Pinckard wrote a memorable article, “Some Senryu about Go” in Go World 15, published in 1979. Despite neglecting to indicate the long vowel in senryū, this is a greatly entertaining article. It offers many of the classic senryū that all go players in Japan love. I urge every English speaking go player to seek out this article. It will repay the effort, without fail.

Senryū are funny, irreverent and commonplace takes on everyday life in Japan. Few other literary exercises offer Westerners so intimate a view of that society.

Robert J. Terry

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