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, March 14, 2012

The Frog in His Fresh Waters

Greetings, all. Grace here. It has been one hell of a month between these challenges, and I'm always glad to have a refuge here in the Imaginary Garden. I thought I'd talk to you a bit about the tanka, continuing our previous discussion of the haiku. Tanka used to be known as "waka," which merely means "Japanese poem." You can see why that wasn't precisely sustainable. The gentleman Masaoka Shiki, whom I mentioned in our last chat, was responsible for renaming the waka to "tanka," or "short poem." He had quite the hand in traditional Japanese formats! He wanted Japanese poetry to be accessible to anyone, to be modernized and celebrated. It's thanks to him that we know about tanka today.

You may be noticing a similarity to a previous format, the tanaga. Luckily, the tanka is a little easier. A tanka is a simple poem of (usually) five lines. If you look at a tanka in English, you might notice that there is a haiku within. The two sections of the tanka are the kami-no-ku and the shimo-no-ku, or the upper phrase and the lower phrase. Instead of placing our cutting words and turning points in the upper phrase, as we would with a teikei haiku, we use the difference between the upper and lower phrases as our turning point.

The tanka is a very traditional format still used today, and, in the Heian period (794-1185 C.E.), they were used as formal interactions and exchanges between lovers. The exchange of extemporaneous poetry showed a quick wit and an excellent education, and women were known to choose assignations based upon the delicacy or competency of the offered verses. One of the greatest poets of this period, and one of my favorites, was the great Ono no Komachi. She was a lady in the Imperial court of the early Heian, and her waka, like this one, are still quoted and beloved today.
Although I come to you constantly
over the roads of dreams,
those nights of love
are not worth one waking glimpse of you.
Another great poet of the mid-Heian period was known as Izumi Shikibu. Her waka were usually intensely emotional and often spoke of love or passion. This one was translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani for their book The Ink Dark Moon, a celebration of Heian-era love poetry and the two women who created such a great lot of it.
Come quickly—as soon as
these blossoms open,
they fall.
This world exists
as a sheen of dew on flowers.
It's a marvelous book, if you like these poems. I love it dearly. But if you're getting tired of love poems, fear not. The tanka is not always romantic in nature! This one, written in English by Dr. Hisashi Nakamura and quoted in his lecture "Japanese Women in Tanka Poetry," is full of imagery and something else...but we'll get to that.
Stifled by the air
Laden with the rusty dust
Of the passing years
The dead cranes in the shipyard
Idly dangle their cables.
The restrained and gorgeous emotion of this tanka exemplifies the "something else" that the Japanese name yugen. Yugen is a feeling both broad and deep, something that Dr. Nakamura refers to as "a subtle and profound atmosphere," and an "infinite tranquil space with lingering suggestiveness." Which is much more nicely put than I was able to state. The entire lecture is definitely worth reading, if you have any time left after making your way to the end of my lengthy challenge here.

You may be rolling your eyes at the screen and thinking, "But Grace, what does this all mean? Get it together!" So here we go: Tanka, for our purposes today, are written in five lines, with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7, and a clear division or turning point between the upper phrase and lower phrase. Try to reach for yugen. Think of the thousands of years of devotion this format has inspired, and do try to take it seriously.

Your challenge, this month, is to write me at least three tanka (no fours), on any subject, adhering strictly to the rules set out in the last paragraph. Additionally, after posting, check the name of the person who posted before you, and get in touch with them if you plan to participate in next month's challenge. The last step is just as important as your entry in the linky, so please don't forget! Whoever is brave enough to post first will be paired with the last poster, or with me if the numbers don't work out (I will not bite, honest).

I'm already looking forward to reading your lovely batch of tanka--it's one of my favorite forms and I hope it becomes one of yours!


Herotomost said...

Hmmmm.....not sure that I got this one....but here is my effort. Good Morning to all!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Okay, I tried this and was impressed with myself that I even managed ONE. Doubt if I can do three but if I accomplish it, will add them later:)

Heaven said...

I like this form....Will certainly link up with one ~

Janet said...

This sounds like a great challenge...I'm feeling burned out and flat with a lively March break under way:) Tonight I think I might try and unwind with a bit of writing:)

Mary said...

I posted some, gave the form my 'best shot.' We had a beautiful March day, which was the inspiration.

Kenia Cris said...

I'm dying to write a tanka because they are exactly what I think poetry should be like - beautiful, simple and easy to relate to. But I have no aptitude to Japanese forms of poetry, or math (meter) (by the way, happy Pi Day), I don't think I can participate today, but I'm really glad you brought the idea up. <3

Kisses to all toads!

cosmos cami said...

Grace, your comment to 'take it seriously' really opened up some great words for me.
Thank you for this prompt. I loved the snapshot view of my life that the simplicity of the form made possible.

Marian said...

ooooooh what fun.

Margaret said...

I like tankas a lot more than haiku! They are tricky, though, and I'm not sure I am any better with these. Thanks for hosting and I will be back tomorrow to participate.

Ella said...

I love this form, but need to play more to get what I want from it~
Great challenge Grace! :D

Susie Clevenger said...

Well, I wrote mine. I think I kinda met the challenge...does that count?

Kerry O'Connor said...

Better late than never.. I didn't get the change between upper and lower sections, I don't think. Hope I achieved some atmosphere though.

Mary Ann Potter said...

I loved the strictness of this form, but I had trouble with the turning point, the clear difference between the upper and lower verses. I used one of my new photos, though, and that helped with a little inspiration.

Kenia Cris said...

I swear I've tried! I've linked something. This is all I could get, ignore me for the next challenge and for those like me who can't do math or tanka, pair us up with tanka masters, let's write rengas! <3 Kisses!

Anonymous said...

for the record, I'm not big on strict forms; still, I do like a good challenge... :)

Anonymous said...

Kenia, I loved your tanka but was unable to leave a comment...

Margaret said...

This was so so so challenging... Who would of thought five little lines could give me so much angst? I'll be back tonight or tomorrow to comment. :)

Ella said...

Grace, I love this form! I decided to write the poetry for Poets United using the Tanka~ Thank you!!! :D

Kay L. Davies said...

Forgot to comment here.
Grace, I really love trying out new forms. I'm one of those old-fashioned poets who finds it comforting to have it laid out for me.
Enjoyed this very much.

Anonymous said...

This was really fun. Your post was informative and this is a new blog and form for me tonight so I had a great time! Thank you and smiles to you!

shawnacy said...

ugh. i've tried 50 times. i can't get the feel of the rhythm.
i always want to add more syllables for flow.
8's instead of 7's and so on...