Poetry and Tanka

I am trying to gather in poems of the past year.  I  have sent “The Zar Tales” to be published with the generous labor of Bill Penrose.  I now have time to consider what I love  best: poetry.  I am working on the next book, one that is only poetry:  “White Cranes of Heaven”.

It’s not easy to write poetry as I am finding out.  Perhaps when I was not conscious of the difficulties it was easier.  As soon as I realized there were certain ‘rules’….or perhaps  when people TOLD me there were rules….well, that’s when I got  nervous.

I have been reading two books of poetry, and about as different as one could get on the issue.  (Anthology ) ” Robert Frost’s Poems” with a commentary by Louis Untermeyer and “The Ink Dark Moon”, translated by Jane Hirshfield with  Mariko Aratani.

Untermeyer states that Frost’s poetry is poetry that never pretends. It’s the poetry of good conversation; it is a language of things as well as thoughts.

And in more a poetic frame: “Again Frost’s rich and ripe philosophy/That had the body and tang of  good draught-cider/And poured as clear as a stream”.

There might be half a world away in the poetry of Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, (9th and 10th century women poets ) but as stated by Tsurayuki’s preface to “Kokinshu”  (ca. 905):

” The Poetry of Japan has its seeds in the human heart and mind and grows into the myriad leaves of words.  Because people experience many different phenomena in this world, they express that which they think and feel in their hearts in terms of all that they see and hear.  A nightingale singing amongst the blossoms, the voice of a pond-dwelling frog– listening to these, what living being would not respond with his own poem?  It is poetry which effortlessly moves the heavens and the earth, awakens the world of invisible spirits to deep feeling, softens the relationship between men and women, and consoles the hearts of fierce warriors.”

There are not that many ‘miles’ between the sentiments of Frost and this statement above.   Poetry’s proper concerns are human emotion in general.  And perhaps poetry is best found in an awakened heart.

Lady Nyo


The futility

Of love should queer the seeking-

But it never does.

Hopeful, yearning, we are fools

Ignoring our history.


When nature is known

reason for awe can be found

in familiar sights.

Intimacy at the core-

astounding revelation!



Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

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2 Responses to “Poetry and Tanka”

  1. Berowne Says:

    > I realized there were certain ‘rules’

    I’d say that poetry has tools, only specific forms of it have rules. If a work has the wrong number of syllables it might not qualify as a haiku, but it may still be an excellent poem. Medieval Celtic and Norse poetry had a myriad of rules such as cynghanedd which involved the repetition of consonants with altered vowels; lines like ‘across field / crows fled’ would be disqualified because the ‘s’ in ‘crows’ was voiced like a Z. But none of that is essential to poetry in general.

    Look at the rhyme scheme in Frost’s ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’, and how he alters it in the last stanza. To me, he’s used rhyme as a productive tool, not a restrictive rule, and the poem is the better for it.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Overall, I would agree with you regarding ‘rules in poetry’.

    Sonnets have ‘rules’ as to structure; tanka also has rules as to structure. For instance, this: 5/7/5/7/7. We recognize this so balanced structure of poetry: our minds and mouths get ready for the reading. There is something so comforting, so satisfying to recognize a poem within it’s intended structure.

    The problem for me comes when people ignore the rules of form: Then what do you have? Sometimes a mishmash of words thrown together and you can’t tell what the original ‘intent’ of form was to be.

    I think it is proper to learn the rules (of form) and then riff on them. Extend them outward, sideways, whatever….but learn them first.

    I think we have seen some attempts at poetry on ERWA that confuse readers as to what is being attempted.

    And for me….. A poet should attempt to have a lover’s quarrel with the world. Free to question, to criticize, but always with compassion and love. Poetry has such ability to change thinking, moods, etc.

    I see nothing wrong with poetry as conversations, but it must reach outward, not be a statement of our own rather boring lives. And some poets don’t understand this at all.

    Rhythm is extremely important in poetry for me, and it’s hard to get it right. I think you need to write hundreds of poems before it begins to be viewed as ‘natural’.

    As for rhyme scheme in Frost’s poem, I agree. And I think it brings it forth from something that is rather mediocre as a poem. And what wording do we remember? It’s the last three lines.

    “But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.”


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