Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuloy po kayo.

Greetings, all--Grace here. I have been thinking all month about our next format challenge, and I think you'll enjoy it. This time, we're going to try our hands at the tanaga.

A tanaga is a short poem originating from the Philippines. It is similar in nature to the Japanese short forms of haiku or tanka. Most tanagas were passed down orally. They are claimed to be one of the oldest form of poetry in the Philippines.

Poetry Magnum Opus states that the tanaga is "emotionally charged and asks a question that begs an answer." While I couldn't find much supporting information for that statement, it drew me in instantly. Most of my sources also claim it's nearly a dying art form, and that the Cultural Center of the Philippines and National Commission of the Arts are hoping to revive it. Let's help out, shall we?

We'll be working with a "modern" tanaga; historical ones are written in Tagalog or other Filipino dialects, and I fear that is currently beyond my rudimentary ability.

Traditionally, the tanaga was presented without a title. It was expected to speak for itself. You can follow this prescription or add a title, as you like.

A tanaga is a short poem of four lines, each line seven syllables with a single rhyme. Today, other rhyme schemes are used, including freestyle rhyme, but for the purpose of this exercise, let's try to stick with couplets.

So, here's our form:
XXXXXXA
XXXXXXA
XXXXXXB
XXXXXXB
Looks pretty easy, right? Well, the other reasons I picked the tanaga are its extreme reliance on metaphor, and a sentence from its Wikipedia article:
Poets test their skills at rhyme, meter and metaphor through the tanaga, not only because is it rhymed and measured, but also it exacts skillful use of words to create a puzzle that demands some kind of an answer.
How perfect is that for our format challenge?

Most examples available on the internet have been written in Tagalog, but I did manage to find one on Buhayin ang Tanaga, a blog curated by Jardine Davies. It exists to bring this much-neglected form into the spotlight it deserves.

This tongue-in-cheek example comes from Ergoe Tinio:
I am Ani Skywalker,
With one-handed lightsaber.
Yes, Luke, I am your father.
Billie Jean's not my lover.
While I realize that one answers no questions or utilizes much metaphor, it made me smile. So I had to use it.

When used as stanzas of a longer piece, the form becomes known as an ambahan. More information on these fascinating little poems can be found at EManilaPoetry, and a little reading on the basic themes of the ambahan (so, too, the tanaga) at Indigenous Portal.

I look forward to reading your versions of this traditional format. And if you fall in love with the tanaga, be sure to submit to Buhayin ang Tanaga or a similar site as well! No poetic format should be allowed to vanish from our vocabularies.

11 comments:

Rinkly Rimes said...

Rather a facile entry I'm afraid. But the images came unbidden.

Heaven said...

Thanks Grace. I never knew this form..but I am going to link up one.

Kerry O'Connor said...

"No poetic format should be allowed to vanish from our vocabularies."

Amen to that! Thank you, Grace, for introducing us to another fascinating and ancient form. I love to read your write ups - they are so informative.

Susie Clevenger said...

Very interesting form. It should not be lost. I am attempting it, but not succeeding. I shall keep trying.

Lolamouse said...

I've never heard of this form, and it was difficult to find English examples. I gave it a try, however!

Teresa said...

For better or worse, I gave it my best shot. This was a great lunch time challenge for me. Thanks for letting us know about it.

Laurie Kolp said...

Thanks for the new form, Grace... I hadn't heard of it before.

Marian said...

better late than never! this form is super-duper challenging. sheesh.

Mary Mansfield said...

Not sure if my attempt is metaphorical enough, but it's one of those rare poems that spontaneously erupted in my head. I also love learning about new-to-me poetic forms!

Ella said...

Thank you Grace! I need to try this again~ I enjoyed it :D

Grace O'Malley said...

I couldn't sleep last night, so I started writing verses in my head. It's a first attempt. I see some of you found it before I linked up! I will link more this weekend.

Thanks, everyone, for your enthusiasm!