Posts Tagged ‘Choka’

What is Poetry to the Japanese?

April 25, 2019

Sesshu painting

This is  part of a study  I have been involved in for a number of years.   I first came across Japanese forms of poetry a  few years ago  (forms of tanka, haiku, waka (think tanka) , choka, etc..and my favorite, renga.  (I can’t get my ‘head’ around sedoka yet, the classical ‘head repeating’ poems…)

I have  published  tanka/haiku in my first book, “A Seasoning of Lust”, and have the four part “Lady Nyo Poems” making the rounds.  (Lady Nyo is a character I developed in an unfinished novel “The Kimono”.  I like her mouthiness so I have adopted her for the blog.) Recently, I was contacted (because of the book) by a Japanese Tanka anthology and asked to submit some tanka.  I did, very flattered.

In 2015 I published “Song of the Nightingale” and I relied heavily on the study of the Man’yoshu.

I have read that in ancient Japan, a woman was not considered educated (we are talking about a particular class of women here, noble families and court women) until she had composed, memorized and published (or could recite) 1000 verses.

It’s this:  In order to ‘know’ the literature or to write in these classical forms, you have to know something about the whole of Japanese literature.  That’s a lifetime of particular study in of itself.  But all this can be broken down into 5 main factors:  the role and pattern of literature in Japanese culture as a whole; the Japanese (and its changing system) writing system; the social background to literature and finally, the underlying world-view  to life/death/religion and philosophy.

(Over the years I have made a stab at these things above, but the stab has to be more than a pinprick.)

By tracing these factors and seeing how they interrelate, you can get a more orderly view of  the development of Japanese literature.  It’s not just a question of ‘forms’ of poetry, but  of  much deeper philosophical material.

And there’s the rub.  Most Western poets have little knowledge or patience with this research and crank off what they believe to be the ‘classical’ forms.  I have done that myself.  However, there are very strict ‘rules’ for the forms, all these forms, and there are reasons for this to be so.

The Japanese sentence order reflects the Japanese sense of cultural order, and it is quite natural that what is true of culture as a whole is true of literature also.  I also believe perhaps this is reflected in a rather small land mass (4 islands actually) with a high population.  In those physical/social cases, you need rules and they spill over into the discipline and ‘restrictions’ of literature.  The Japanese, to our way of thinking, aren’t  disorderly.  They have a particular sense of discipline in many spheres of social and political life.  This is bound to show up in literature and the arts.

Recently I bought Shuici Kato’s “A History of Japanese Literature, The First Thousand Years”.  Just a casual persual of it shows me how much, after a few years of study of form and writing verse, how much I really don’t know.  But this will make a dent in my ignorance.

It better.  Westeners are freewheeling pirates, some believing that the dribbles from their pens are worthy of broad notice, bending or distorting classical forms because they think this is modern, and basically sneering at the forms that lay the basis of a 100o years of  some particular poetry.  This is just arrogance and narcissism.

It does nothing of merit except to show the childish temper tantrums of ignorance and bites them in the ass in the end.  And the middle.

Learn the classical forms first…become a better poet…and then do your personal riffs.  It’s not that these forms are in concrete, immutable for the ages, but understand first why they developed and why they developed from a better understanding of that particular culture.

There is another book I recently bought:  “Love Songs frm the Man’yoshu” (Selections From a Japanese Classic”  The illustrations are incredible, and vie with the poetry.

And about these Japanese books.  They are like Jewel Boxes.  To hold one in your hand is a delight.   They are beautifully bound and printed, the colors are brilliant, they glissen like jewels in the sun. One was tied with twine when I received it, and I thought about shibari:  an earlier translation of the word was “to tie the heart”.

This certainly did it for me.  It tied up my heart and mind with the pages of this book.

I am going to post some of my own ‘tanka’ here.  They are hardly classical tanka, only in the 5/7/5/7/7 form.  They violate rules about metaphor, simile, seasons, etc…but they are the best I have right now.  Someday I will throw them away and write ‘real’ tanka, but that will take years.

I ask your indulgence and patience until I learn more.

Lady Nyo

#1

This grim November,
The month of my father’s death.
Always bittersweet.
My memories float, weak ghosts,
Hauntings in the fog of life.

#2

A mind that obeys
And becomes one with nature
Sees through four seasons
Embellished with life forces,
And completes a discipline.

#3

When nature is known
Reason for awe can be found
In familiar sights.
Intimacy at the core—
Astounding revelation!

#4

The full moon above
Floats on blackened velvet seas,
Poet’s perfection!
But who does not yearn for a
Crescent in lavender sky?

#5.

Birds fly in the blue.
All is gray upon the earth,
Heart stopped with sorrow.
White cranes lifts off calm waters,
My heart tries to follow.

#6.

In this single branch
Of a wintry holly,
A hundred word hide.
A thousand blushes appear.
Do not overlook the thorns.

#7.

Lithe-bodied, she climbs-
She has now mounted my soul!
Clinging with strong legs
Her breasts pressed against me,
Shaping an intangible thing.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008-2019

Choka: “Grief”

February 16, 2017
My beautiful picture

My beautiful picture

Over at dversepoets pub, the challenge is one of writing a poem expressing expressionism.  We will see….this was a hard one for me.

Lady Nyo

 

 

 

 

 

Her lovely snow-flesh

 

the tracery of blue veins

 

upon long slim arms

 

like embracing filaments

 

fold themselves gently

 

cold, smooth marble her skin

 

water streams from eyes

 

looks upon such delicate

 

unearthly beauty, now still.

 

 

 

Grief, mine, stoppered up,

 

memories, glass-sharpened

 

cuts a shattered heart.

 

no hope for recovery,

 

life folded inward

 

her pain is over, done with,

 

mine, just beginning.

 

Each of grief’s ragged breath draws

 

out, to join in her silence.

 

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

 

Copyrighted, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ghosts”…a choka for dversepoets pub

January 5, 2017

japanese ghosts

Japanese ghosts…..

Choka (long poem) is an ancient Japanese form of poetry that predates tanka and haiku.  It was very prominent in the great Man’yoshu of the 8th century, a collection of 4, 515 poems.  Gayle of Bodhirose’s Blog is hosting this wonderful form over at dversepoets.com.  Come read the submissions of choka over there.  It might choke you up.

Lady Nyo

Ghosts

 

Ghosts of lovers gone

circle my head in pale tones

grazing my body

with hands and lips now grown cool.

My loins slight response

barely encourages more

but lust knows its course

and demands my devotion

still calling forth attention.

 

In the past I knew

plump lips, rounded soft belly

blossom of my youth.

All of these circling ghosts

touched the filament

some of them the fundament!

Fast lusty dances

mouths and tongues greedy with joy

loins wrapped around loins straining.

 

Now, silence- alone,

all gone in the haze of time

spooks disturb my sleep

but still my skin remembers-

the scrap of a nail,

the caress of a soft hand,

teeth grasping a lip.

 

The flesh loses much regard

but memories surface still.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017

 

 

“Goddess Nut”……poem based on Egyptian mythology.

May 22, 2014

This poem dedicated to CZBZ, a woman who inspires so many with her compassion and wisdom.

Lady Nyo

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NUT (Choka)

 

I am the Temple

of the Universe at night,

I am Goddess Nut.

I spread my body over

the dark, silky sky

and the Sun is born from my

open mouth at dawn, each day.

 

 

Invisible moon

crawls into my bowels at dawn

as does brother Sun

at night when his glory dimmed

and I cradle both

within me their majestic

glory now dulled down

until the release of them

thrown high up into the sky.

 

 

I am the keeper.

All Celestial bodies

I, the nourisher

of life and death that passes

I, Nut, sleep at day,

my stars and I well hidden

by the birth of Sun

but courted by Geb, Earth God

who sucks the night dew

from my two breasts with sweet lips

reaching with his maleness

makes the Earth fertile with love,

and the universe fruitful.

 

 

I am the River

where planets and stars sail through

on their skyward journey,

the celestial travail.

My Houri marks time,

passage of cosmic travel

discarding their veils

til naked at dawn, retire

on the horizon.

They sleep once again under

My belly and gathered near.

 

I am the passage.

I am the Keeper of Souls.

I am the mystery.

My presence lends fear to man

I touch eyes with sleep.

I round out the universe

Dark, fulsome Night.

I am Nut.

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

“Ten Thousand Leaves, Love Poems From The Man’youshu”…and a recommendation of books.

February 24, 2013

Manyoshu image

Man'yoshu image II

A while ago, I was asked by a poetry group to do a short presentation on the Man’yoshu. This is a collection of poems from the 8th century. They are gorgeous poems, some startling erotic.

I have at least five different editions of the Man’yoshu, each giving a different translation and perspective on these poems. One of my favorite versions is “Love Songs from the Man’yoshu, Selections from a Japanese Classic”, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki, Commentary by Ooka Makoto, Translations by Ian Hideo Levy and with an essay by Donald Keene. Published in Japan by Lodansha International.

This is an incredibly beautiful book. The cut-out illustrations by the great Miyata Masayuki, powerfully and exquisitely erotic, give a visual insight into the sexuality of these poems. I did not expect this when I held this beautiful book in my hand. The paper, the colors, the commentary, everything about this book is a delight.

There are many books about the Man’yoshu. However, an older one that (1965) is plainly called “The Manyoshu’ One Thousand Poems, published by Columbia University Press. The Foreword is by Donald Keene, the much decorated translator and interpreter of Japanese literature. This book is worth obtaining just for the writing of Keene.

Lady Nyo


“Ten Thousand Leaves, Love Poems from the Man’yoshu”

“Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you
Like the layers
Of endlessly falling snow
Upon the cedars.
Come to me at night, my man.”
—– from the Man’yoshu

It was the first golden age of Japanese civilization. In the eighth century appeared the great metropolis of Nara, (the imperial capital) its broad avenues lined with magnificent temples. Culture rushed in from Korea, China and over the Silk Road, from as far away as Persia, and even from Venice.

We think of Japan in isolation, as it was to become centuries later, but in the 7th to the 10th centuries (approximately) the cultural influences were vast and wide and foreign.

In the 8th century, Japan found it’s first voice, a clear and powerful voice to become one of the most impressive, sophisticated and frank compilations of poetry the world has ever seen. (There are other earlier and then later collections of poetry, but the Man’yoshu is considered to be the best of the poetry collections. There are many reasons (cultural and court changes, etc) but this is a long study and can’t be done in this short presentation.

There are not 10,000 poems (leaves) but over 4,500. Most of these are love poems, where lovers speak with disarming frankness and clarity, speak to us across 1300 years as if they were us. Actually, the poems express a decided lack of neurosis that we have come to view sex in the last few centuries. There is nothing of barriers when it comes to the human heart, longing, emotions and sexuality in these poems. Many of them are openly, expressly erotic.

The authors or contributors of these poems extended from Emperors, Empresses, courtesans, samurai, priests, beggars, fishermen, peasants: a cross section of remarkable variety. A truly democratic endeavor. This was never again to happen in Japan, not at least to this extent.

Otomo No Yakamochi (718-785) is considered to be the main complier of the Man’yoshu. These poems actually span a 130 year history, from around 630 AD to 759 AD.

There are three basic divisions of the poetry in the Man’yoshu.
Banka: elegy on the death of an Emperor or a loved one.
Somon: mutual exchanges of love or longing poetry.
Zoka: Poems of Nature, hunting, etc.
This short presentation will focus only on the Somon form.

Generally the Man’yoshu poetry is considered to be declarative rather than introspective, imagistic rather than abstract. There is an incredible freshness to it all.

There are basically two forms of poetry in the Man’yoshu: choka (long poem, 5-7-5-7-5-7, etc. ending in 7-7) and tanka. (5-7-5-7-7). The ‘long poem’, choka (which isn’t very long by our modern and Western standards) died out of fashion, and tanka became the predominant form of Japanese poetry for the next 1200 years.

Although one would think so, there isn’t a lot of Buddhist influence in the poems. If any religion, there is more Shinto influence especially in the Zoka form, but even that isn’t large. This may seem strange to us, with our notions of culture in Japan, but even centuries later, with the Priest-Poet Saigyo, there is little Buddhist thought within his poems. Religion just doesn’t play such a dominant role in most Japanese poetry, especially at this time.

“Going over the fields of murasaki grass
That shimmer crimson,
Going over the fields marked as imperial domain,
Will the guardian of the fields not see you
As you wave your sleeves at me?”
====Princess Nukata

This poem is considered by many to be one of the greatest poems in the Man’yoshu. It is presented near the beginning of the collection, giving it prominence. The answer by her former husband (she is now married to the Emperor) Prince Oama, (his brother) is a beautiful poem in its own right.

“If I despised you, who are as beautiful
As the murasaki grass,
Would I be longing for you like this,
Though you are another man’s wife?”
===Prince Oama

“Do not let men find out
By smiling at me so apparently,
Like the clouds that clearly cross
Over the verdant mountains.”
—–Lady Otomo Sakanoue

There are more poems by this poet than any other woman in the Man’yoshu. What is remarkable are the amount of women poets included in the Man’yoshu. This is only possible because the Confucian philosophy was not prominent yet in Japan. When it became influential, women lost much status: before they were allowed to own property, title, name, divorce, to keep custody of their children. After, they were relegated to indoors, stripped of much power and status.

“Whose words are these,
Spoken to the wife of another?
Whose words are these,
That bade me untie
The sash of my robe?”
—-Anonymous

Many of the poems in the Man’yoshu were folk songs, or parts of folk songs. And this repeated interest in ‘the wife of another’ was an object of male desire; the Man’yoshu is full of this theme.

“As I turn my gaze upward
And see the crescent moon,
I am reminded
Of the trailing eyebrows
Of the woman I saw but once.”
—-Otomo Yakamochi
This was written by Otomo at the age of 16!

“I have fallen into a yearning
With no requite,
For a girl who, when night comes
Sleeps pillowed in another’s arms.
—-Anonymous

“If men can touch
Even the untouchable sacred tree,
Why can I not touch you
Simply because you are another’s wife?”
—-Otomo Yasumaro

To finish with some anonymous poems:

“The flowers of the plum,
Were covered with fallen snow
Which I wrapped up
But when I tried to have you see
It was melting in my hands.”

“This body of mine
Has crossed the mountain barrier
And is here indeed!
But this heart of mine remains
Drawing closer to my wife.”

“The moon crossed the sky
And I saw him only once
In its pale light
Yet, the person whom I saw
Does appear to me in dreams.”

“I shall not take a brush
To this hair that lies
Disheveled in the morning,
For it retains the touch
Of my dear lord’s arms that pillowed me.”
—-Anonymous

For 1200 years, the Man’yoshu has inspired poets to write their own poetry based on these poems. Below are a few of mine inspired with readings of this classical document. The Man’yoshu poetry can be startling frank and seem to avoid modern day sexual neurosis.

Come to me
If even only in my dreams
Where my head rests upon my arm
And not yours–
Let this veiled moon
Above and these dark, brooding pines below
Be witness to our love, my man.”

Come to me,
When the rocks have disappeared
Under sheets of snow,
The moon appears through tattered clouds.
I will be
Listening for the sound of
Your footfall in the dark.

Come to me, my man,
Part the blinds and come into my arms,
Snuggle against my warm breast
And let my belly
Warm your soul.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
(aka Lady Nyo)

11_17_7

“The Goddess Nut”, choka (long poem)

July 3, 2012

 

 (redbubble.com:  The Egyptian Goddess Nut by Amanda Burns El Hassouri.)

I took a tumble off the back porch on the 4th….ok, except a broken wrist and a cracked rib….I landed on my left side falling 6 feet into the soil and unfortunately rocks….so i will be off line because I can’t ype and want to thank those who commented on this poem….when I can, I’ll be around to your blogs to read.  Thank you for your patience.

Lady Nyo

When I first started writing poetry, I came across choka. This is a very early piece of poetry.  This poem was influenced by a painting by a dear friend, Nick Nicholson, in Canberra, Australia.

For those readers unfamiliar with  choka, it is a very early Japanese form of poetry: choka is called ‘long poem’.  It can get to 100 lines and still be in the form.  I haven’t written choka in years, and  forgot how good a form it is to ‘tell stories’. One basic form of choka is 5-7-5-7-5-7-7…or a variation on this.

Lady Nyo

 

The Goddess Nut

I am the Temple

of the Universe at night,

I am Goddess Nut

I spread my body over

the dark, silky sky

and the Sun is born from my

open mouth at dawn, each day.

 

 

Invisible moon

crawls into my bowels at dawn

as does brother Sun

at night when his glory dimmed

and I cradle both

within me their majestic

glory now dulled down

until the release of them

thrown high up into the sky.

 

 

I am the keeper.

All Celestial bodies

I, the nourisher

of life and death that passes

I, Nut, sleep at day,

my stars and I well hidden

by the birth of Sun

but courted by Geb, Earth God

who sucks the night dew

from my two breasts with sweet lips

reaching with stiff cock

makes the Earth fertile with love,

and the universe fruitful.

 

 

I am the River

where planets and stars sail through

on their skyward journey,

the celestial travail.

My Houri marks time,

passage of cosmic travel

discarding their veils

til naked at dawn, retire

on the horizon.

They sleep once again under

My belly and gathered near.

 

I am the passage.

I am the Keeper of Souls.

I am mystery.

My presence lends fear to man

I touch eyes with sleep.

I round out the universe

dark fulsome Night.

 I am Nut.

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2007, 2012

I use ‘fulsome’ in an older meaning: excessive.  There is still an undecided element to this word in usage today.  But language is never static and blows about as it will.  That, to me, is the excitement of it all. 

“Ghosts”

October 7, 2008

Choka form of poetry….

GHOSTS

Ghosts of lovers gone
circle my head in pale tones
grazing my body
with hands and lips grown now cool
my loins slight response
barely encourages more
but lust knows its course
demands my devotion
and calls forth attention.

In the past I knew
plump lips, rounded soft belly
blossom of my youth.
All of these circling ghosts
touched the filament
some of them the fundament!
Fast lusty dances
mouths and tongues greedy with joy
loins wrapped around loins straining.

Now, silence, thinking
all gone in the haze of time
spooks disturb my sleep
but still my skin remembers
the scrap of a nail
the caress of a soft hand,
teeth grasping a lip.
The flesh loses much regard
but memories surface still.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted,  2008


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