Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Sunday Mini-Challenge

Last week, we explored the many uses of the tercet, or three line stanza as the frame of a poem.  This weekend, we are moving to a more developed form of tristich (poem in three lines) called Sijo [pronounced see-szo], which is the Korean cousin of Tanka and Haiku.  

© Jaime Clark

Sijo was originally a ballad form, written for a singing voice, and has been popular as lyric verse for over 500 years.  The instructions which follow, were sourced at Poetry Magnum Opus, and the Sijo Primer #1 by Larry Gross provided extra information and examples, which I have quoted here. The latter is well-worth reading for the origins and uses of this fascinating form.

© Jaime Clark

Traditionally, Sijo is written in three lines and is based on a syllable count of 14 - 16 per line, but the basis of the rhythm (and the secret art of writing the poem) is the use of 6 short phrases with a break (caesura) at the mid-point of each line.  Before I lay out the steps, let us take a look at this example, where I have added in the breaks:

See the house | fall at our feet,|| faithful timbers | come crashing down;
Those with our life
| in their hands || join the termites, | gnaw at beams.
Till the dawn,
| hold me while we sleep -- || in the cold, | that is enough.

(TOP #14 May 1995; Canadian Writer's Journal, Fall 1995)

Basic Outline of the Writing Process:


Line 1: Introduction to situation or problem
Line 2: Development of situation (turn)
Line 3: Strong conclusion often with a twist

The Sijo may tell a story (like a ballad), examine an idea (like a sonnet) or express an emotion (like a lyrical poem).


Lines 1 and 2 are written in four phrases of syllables counted as follows: 3 - 4 || 3 - 4 with a major pause at the end of the line (i.e. no enjambment) and a total of 14 syllables per line.

Line 3 is also written in four phrases of syllables counted: 3 - 6 || 4 - 3 to a total of 16 syllables.

Some leeway is allowed within this structure but the end result should be between 44 and 46 syllables.

© Jaime Clark

In Translation

When original Korean Sijo are translated into English, they have been set out in six lines and this is an accepted variation of the form. Similarly, titles have become popular in modern Sijo, whereas they were not traditionally used.


Just us two in the photograph
his arm around my thin shoulder
That strong limb I then leaned against
would break so many falls
We stood like this but only once
but his strength holds me still

[Elizabeth St Jacques, Around the Tree of Light (1995)]

© Jaime Clark

You will notice that I have shared a few of Jaime Clark's photos taken on a recent trip to Umhlanga Rocks beach. These form a secondary part of the Mini-Challenge, and those who prefer Free Verse may write to a sea theme. If you use any of these images on your blog, please acknowledge the name of the photographer.

The Sunday Challenge is posted on Saturday at noon CST to allow extra time for the form challenge.  Please provide a link on your blog back to Real Toads.  We stipulate that only poems written for this challenge may be added to the Mr Linky.  Management reserves the right to remove unrelated links, but invites you to share a poem of your choice on Open Link Monday.


Kerry O'Connor said...

Hi all! My brain started working on this task as I was setting up the post, so I decided to strike while the iron was hot, since it's been fairly lukewarm of late. I hope you all have some fun trying out this form or giving us some lovely sea-inspired verses.

Peggy said...

Glad you included the sea related challenge as an option since I was pretty much overwhelmed with the Sijo form. I want to give it a try though. Amazing where you come up with all these forms!

Kerry O'Connor said...

It really is not as difficult as it may at first appear. Dive right in!

(Fireblossom may feel free to lampoon my 'sea joes' in her own inimitable way)

Kerry O'Connor said...

PS. The word 'phrase' is used loosely, because verbs are included, otherwise each line would not make much sense :P

Ella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ella said...

Fascinating! Dive in-I love that~
Tell Jaime I love her photos :D

Marian said...

oh kerry! i am so excited to try this form out! thanks so much. i'll dive in tomorrow, with any luck. xoxo

Janine Bollée said...

Hello Kerry,
Glad your feeling better. I think I may have caught your bug though, inspite of the distance :-0.
Thanks for reminding me of this form.

hedgewitch said...

This looks really enticing, Kerry. I am still not 100% with my silly back, but this may be something I can't ignore...we shall see. Hope you are feeling better.

Hannah said...

This was great fun, Kerry, thank you...

I love when a short form makes me slow down and choose wisely my words.

Big thanks to Jaime, too...her images are so inspiring!

Smiles to all!

Mary said...

I gave it a try....I don't know how successfully. LOL.

Fireblossom said...

Another short Oriental form for me to hate! :-P

Peggy said...

Well I gave it a try Kerry and you were right it was not as hard as it looked at first. I did not try for the problem-development-resolution, but for a first try I think I did OK just getting the syllable count. Thanks for introducing this new form to me. Hope everyone is well or getting better.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kerry - I think my comment got eaten - a great prompt - interesting form. I am not feeling very well today so don't know if I can rise to it, but will be thinking. k.

Susan said...

I tell you, Kerry, the combination of the sea, photos, and form is great! As usual, this wasn't easy, but I managed to get both frozen and boiling into mine.

Mary B. Mansfield said...

So glad to be back! My little encounter with the flu this week kind of turned my brain into pudding for a while. Went the photo prompt route with this poem, the one with the lighthouse gave me the proper focus to finish something I started before getting sick.

Margaret said...

Thank you for your daughter's lovely photos! And the challenge (for me) was really hard... if I'd been asked to rhyme I would have had to give up! I have been away for almost a week... Glad to be back.

Margaret said...

...even though I was late posting, I thought about this all weekend. I do love this particular challenge, Kerry!

Susie Clevenger said...

Love the challenge Kerry...not sure I accomplished it, but I gave it a shot.