Posts Tagged ‘Japanese poetry’

“The Night of the Stain”, from ‘A Seasoning of Lust’

July 10, 2013

Man'yoshu image II

I have been working on a piece that is based on the Man’yoshu, the 8th century Japanese document of over 4500 poems. What I have begun to do is a ‘call and answer’ for lack of a better term. Taking the top poem from the Man’yoshu, I have continued on with my own poetry (answer). In the next week I hope to finish this task.

I post “The Night of the Stain” to change the theme and to bring us into the very romantic Man’yoshu poetry that is to come.

There is a reference to a dildo in this poem. It may shock some, but in Japan there are museums to this sexual toy. Giving a dildo has a long tradition and is not something that dismays the Japanese. Well, at least not many of them.

Lady Nyo


Izumi hid in the willow greenery
Jade green strands cascading to the ground
Hair of blackbird gloss
Trailing in the grass
Black and green tangled
In the layers of her hems.

Her maid searched for her,
Duty to her mistress,
These peaceful moments now rare.

“My Lady! I found the most beautiful
Robe in the bottom of a chest.
It will be perfect for your wedding”

Yes, her wedding.
Better she become a nun.

Izumi parted the willow,
Looked without interest.
Her maid held
A pale jade silk kimono
Embossed tarnished silver embroidery,
Seed pearls gleaming from
Gossamer folds.
Izumi’s breath caught in her throat.
Hands trembling
She opened the kimono.

There it was, faded with time-
A blood stain.

He was dead now, her greatest love.
Closing her eyes
She remembered his face,
His hair, black as a raven,
His sandalwood perfume, still faintly trapped
In the jade bo silk.

Through tears leaking
From shadowed lids,
She remembered that night-
She remembered the gift of an ivory dildo.
She remembered the night of the stain,
When locked in his powerful arms
She screamed out—
Scattering servants listening outside the shoji.
She had bled from
The strength of their passion.

Now she was to marry an old man,
Arranged through the court.
Scandal and poverty, Ah!
The two banes of life.

She would need the dildo.
She would marry in the stained kimono.
It wouldn’t matter anymore.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2011, 2013

More On The Bones Of Haiku…. Some New Haiku and Attempting Kigo.

May 23, 2013
"Nuthatches", watercolor, 2006, Jane Kohut-Bartels

“Nuthatches”, watercolor, 2006, Jane Kohut-Bartels

As I study these bones, I keep being drawn back to Robert Haas’s “The Essential Haiku” (versions of Basho/Buson/Issa.) Haas puts forth these three as ‘types’ of poet: Basho as the ascetic and seeker, Buson the artist, Issa the humanist. Perhaps their differences grow clearer as we read them, but right now it’s not too clear to me.

The insistence on time and place was crucial for writers of haiku. Seasonal reference was called kigo and a haiku was thought to be incomplete without it. Kigo could be many things, and changed with the seasons. A few examples: Mosquitoes were summer, cherry blossoms, rice seedlings spring, maple leaves stood in for fall and winter had numerous kigos like ‘north wind’, hoarfrost, smog (smoke over a village from hearth fires) fallen leaves, etc. The kigo was of a natural observation of seasons. Although this was codified, it also could be very individual in the work.

Quoting from Haas: “These references were conventional and widely available. They were the first way readers of the poems had of locating themselves in the haiku. Its traditional themes—deep autumn, a sudden summer shower, the images of rice seedlings and plum blossoms, of spring and summer migrants like the mountain cuckoo and the bush warbler, of the cormorant-fishermen in summer and the apprentices holiday in the spring—gave a powerful sense of the human place in the ritual and cyclical movements of the earth.”


“The first level of a haiku was in its location of nature, its second was always some implicit Buddhist reflection on nature. One of the striking differences between Christian and Buddhist thought is that in the Christian sense of things, nature is fallen, and in the Buddhist sense it isn’t. At the core of Buddhist metaphysics are three ideas about natural things: that they are transient; that they are contingent; that they suffer.”

Better to sink down through the level of these poems to the particular level of human consciousness the poems reflect. Or, in my case, attempt.

Lady Nyo

Under the eaves, chimes
Weave celestial music.
My man yawns then farts.

(Implied is strong winds,(top and bottom…) which could be spring or fall, or perhaps any season. That the kigo isn’t determined or spelled out could also signal the death of this particular haiku.)

A dog comes snooping
Mother and father cardinals—
Intruder- Leave Now!

(this just happened last weekend where two baby cardinals were tipped from their nest and killed by my pointer pup. The parents made quite a fuss. So did I when I found the babies on the steps, dead. Cardinals breed in the spring, so the kigo is inferred here.)

Radishes are up!
From such tiny seed they grow.
Stomach rumbles.

Snow falls on meadows
Crows pick at last harvest seeds
Spring still far away

Cherry red toenails
Peek out from the warm blanket.
Deep snow cools ardor.

White makeup drips
The hard heat and mosquitos
Make maiko languid.

A swirl of blossoms
Caught in the water’s current
Begins the season.

Falls crispness compels
Apples to tumble from trees.
Worms make the journey.

I chase one red leaf
Across dry and brittle grass
Juice of summer gone.

The garden spiders
Fold their black spindly legs,
Die, all work now done.

A mourning dove cries
It is such a mournful sound
Perhaps a fierce owl
Has made it a widower?
Oh! It breaks my heart, his cry.

…a new (sorta…) tanka.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

Kobayashi Issa, (1763-1827) A Haiku Poet with Enormous Heart

May 12, 2013
sky in the NorthEast, Jane Kohut-Bartels, June 25, 2012

sky in the NorthEast, Jane Kohut-Bartels, June 25, 2012

I have had “The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa” for a few years and have only really read to Basho. But recently reading Issa, (Issa means Cup-of-Tea), the world of haiku opened up in ways I didn’t expect.

What is remarkable about Issa’s poetry is the compassion for the lowest of creatures (insects, etc.), the deep interest in the commonalities of life, compassion for humanity, and the joyful celebration of the ordinary.

Haiku can be a perplexing poetry form. Recently I have read a lot of bad haiku. I’ve written about this before. (I’ve also written bad haiku myself) It seems people throw together observations and call it haiku. It generally isn’t. There are ‘rules’ and structures for this poetry form, and it seems that many people who attempt haiku have no regard for even reading or researching some of these fundamentals. If they started with a reading and research of renga, they would get some background of haiku, or hokku, which is what haiku was first called.

Renga, or linked verse, is marvelous to read. One poet starts with a three line poem, another picks it up, and so on. They can go on for a hundred linked poems or more. Usually accompanied by sake.

What was remarkable of renga, and later of haiku…is the shifts and dissolves that remind one of early surrealist films. And there are some modernist poets, like Ezra Pound’s XXX Cantos, or even better, Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” that comes near to the renga spirit, this shifting and resolve.
But the Buddhist tradition embraced this shifting and resolve. Renga, and then haiku, have a way of embracing this life, this transitory nature of all things.

I came across a part of a 14th century treatise on poetry:

“Contemplate deeply the vicissitudes of the life of man and body, always keep in your heart the image of mujo (ephemerality) and when you go to the mountains or the sea, feel the pathos (aware) of the karma of sentient beings and non-sentient things. Give feeling to those things without a heart (mushintai no mono) and through your own heart express their beauty (yugen) in a delicate form.”(from “Basho and the Way of Poetry in the Japanese Religious Tradition”)

Again, haiku isn’t as simple as it seems. But it’s direct, forceful and of a keenness that satisfies.

People complain of the ‘oddness’ of haiku. Perhaps it is this ‘shifts and resolve’ embedded in the form. To me, Issa has less of this than Basho or Buson. There is a directness and compassion of Issa that deeply involves the heart and eyes.

And a deep sense of the absurb and a great sense of humor in Issa.

My words will not convince anyone. But perhaps examples of Issa will.

Lady Nyo

Haiku of Issa: from The Essential Haiku, edited by Robert Hass

New Year’s Day—
Everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

The snow is melting
And the village is flooded
With children.

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

Goes out,
Comes back—
The loves of a cat.

Children imitating cormorants
Are even more wonderful
Than cormorants.

O flea! Whatever you do,
Don’t jump;
That way is the river.

In this world
We walk on the roof of hell,
Gazing at flowers.

Don’t kill that fly!
Look—it’s wringing its hands
Wringing its feet.

I’m going out,
Flies, so relax,
Make love.

(approaching his village)

Don’t know about the people,
But all the scarecrows
Are crooked.

A huge frog and I,
Staring at each other,
Neither of us moves.

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
Killing mosquitoes.

What good luck!
Bitten by
This year’s mosquitoes too.

The bedbug
Scatter as I clean,
Parents and children.

And my personal favorite…

Zealous flea,
You’re about to be a Buddha
By my hand.

some of my own, struggling with the form.

Dogwoods are blooming
The crucifixion appears
White moths in the night

A frog with moon eyes
Sits staring in the path.
Is he stone or flesh?

Billowing spring winds
Blow pollen in crevices
The water floats green.

The moon howls tonight.
Perhaps the dogs entice it.
Chickens are restless.

A fox on the prowl
This bitter cold spring night.
Dried grasses rustle.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

More Spring Haiku, Tanka, and Troubling Issues of Yugen and Mono-no-Aware

March 31, 2012


Watercolor:  Springtime Daffs, janekohut-bartels, 2006

(“Spring Daffs”, watercolor, janekohutbartels, 2006)

The plums, peach blossoms are done: the cherries and apple to come.  The pears are blooming and so are the roses. There is only what is outside, to see with eyes, as there is little energy right now with allergies.

I have struggled with terms in Japanese poetry such as yugen, mono-no-aware and other Zen and Zen-sounding concepts.  A poet strives for the quality of mono-no-aware; that the sense of a poem must reach beyond the words themselves, even to an ‘elegant sadness’.

As for yugen, an aesthetic feeling not explicitly expressed, rather a ‘ghostly’ presense.

These are noble and heady concepts, rich with cultural experience and a deeper study.  I believe you grow into this understanding only with time. For me, I am too new a poet to understand these things or to apply them with any honesty.

Saigyo says we start with direct observation and see where this takes us.  This spring, putting in my garden, suffering from a vertigo of unknown cause, being mostly on my back with plenty of time to stare out the window, to observe the passing of hours, well, these poems below are nothing more than that: they are a modest product of an attempt to get closer to an aesthetic I don’t really understand.

Lady Nyo


A pale crescent moon

The sky colored lavender

Nothing more to wish.


Acid green pollen

Stains the landscape of spring

Life-force of Nature.


Morning glories bloom

Entangling wrought-iron fence

Warms the cold metal.


Dawn east-sky moon glows

A thin half-cup spills on soil

Seeds stretch out their arms.


Under a crescent moon

The black soil of the garden

Anticipates life.


Tibetan earthworms

Bring a halt to all labor

Here? Feed lazy koi.




Smell of rose blossoms

Draws me around a corner.

A black cat sits there

The finest brocade can not

Equal this petal softness.




In the Garden at Dawn


Dawn east-sky moon gleam

A golden half-cup greets the garden,

Hands deep in soil

Planting tender shoots of life

With a reverence feeding the soul

As seedlings feed flesh later to come.


There is God in this black soil,

Earthworms and tiny bits of life

Independent of will or wishes.

Golden moonbeams spill on this tilled earth

Like a benediction or blessing,

And bathes plants and planter with promise.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

Five Tanka

May 1, 2010

Japanese Woman

From  “The Lady Nyo’s Poems and Prose”.  Hopefully to be published this autumn.


Glimpse of a white wrist-

The river of blood beneath

This is seduction!

But catching a cunning smile,

One learns all is artifice.


Whose bold words are these,

To the wife of another?

Who bade me untie,

The sash of my silken robe

And bare my breast and belly?


I shall not brush locks

That obscure my face and mouth

Where I felt strong hands

Of my lover displacing

My sharp disdain with his lust.

Give me a moment!

To catch my breath and settle.

Give me some peace now.

Stop kissing my hands, stop it!

What if someone is spying?


Presence of Autumn

Burst of colors radiates

From Earth-bound anchors

Sun grabs prismatic beauty

And tosses the spectrum wide!

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

Something Nice Just Happened….

February 10, 2010


I applied for membership to the Anglo-Japanese Tanka Society in York, England.  I thought I would send two tanka to Mr. Hisashi Nakamura on the off chance that they would be accepted.  They were.

I am grateful to the Society for publishing on their site my two tanka.  Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows  I am head over heels in love with the tanka form.  I spend some days just counting  syllables on my fingers while attempting other things!

I want to thank two writers, Berowne and Nick Nicholson for their unflagging encouragement and support of my attempts to write poetry.   Both are excellent writers;  Berowne has years of knowledge of poetry, of many, many kinds, and Nick is a very fine poet himself.

This influence (of the Tanka Society) can only mean  I will be amongst poets and work that will strengthen my own attempts.  Or so I hope it to be.

Lady Nyo




Jane Kohut-Bartels

The moon floats on wisps

Of clouds extending outward.

Tendrils of white fire

Burn up in the universe–

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.


Shooting star crosses

Upended bowl of blue night.


Fires up with excited gaze!

A moment– and all is gone.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

Ono no Komachi (834?-?)

January 21, 2010

Ono no Komachi

Komachi was one of the pillars of Japanese Heian era poetry. She served in the court in the capitol city of Heian-kyo (present day Kyoto).

Komachi’s poetry was extremely passionate, deeply subjective and complex.  She was  of a poetical society that  developed the form with  philosophical and emotional depth.

My study of Komachi is just beginning and it’s  better we allow her words to lead us into her world.

Lady Nyo

Ono No Komachi

Did he appear

because I fell asleep

thinking of him?

If only I’d known I was dreaming,

I’d never have wakened.


When my desire

grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

inside out,

dark as the night’s rough husk.


No way to see him

on this moonless night–

I lie awake longing, burning,

breasts racing fire,

heart in flames.


Though I go to him constantly on the paths of dream,

never resting my feet,

in the real world

it doesn’t equal a single glance.


The cicadas sing

in the twilight

of my mountain village–

tonight, no one

will visit save the wind.

—-From “The Ink Dark Moon”, Hirshfield and Aratani

Poetry and Prose, Part II.

December 27, 2009

Nick Nicholson is a friend and  writer.  We met on ERWA three years ago and formed a small writing group with Bill Penrose…also from ERWA.  We pursued our own work and within our small group, developed  in the ‘refining fire’ of criticisms and comments.

Recently Nick and I have been discussing  this issue of poetry.  And perhaps what, to our eyes, defines poetry.  It’s just a beginning glimmer as we work towards a deeper understanding of the subject in general and our poetry in particular.

However, when Nick says  “something inherently “poetic” about it, a different use of language, a different mindset is apparent”, (about forming, writing a poem) I can understand this at some level.  A subjective statement, but nonetheless, something that we share.

Further, we struggle to deepen our understanding of these things that are ‘foggy’ right now, but I do believe  there are many things that will help point us to some broader understanding.  It has recently been the trend to not “study” poetry, but to shoot from the hip in the writing of it.  I think this belittles the art form.

Subjective, yes….but not unknowable.

I believe  there is much to know about the ins and outs of this particular art form. It is not a great muddled mystery.

This winter I am settling down to do a more concentrated study of Japanese poetry forms to get a foothold.  I am drawing from the works of Shuichi Kato (especially his “A History of Japanese Literature”), Kenneth Rexroth (“Women Poets of Japan”) and the very insightful commentaries by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani in their work: “The Ink Dark Moons”.

Some have questioned  what Eastern poetry forms have to do with what Westerners write:  Everything, I think.  There is not a ‘Chinese wall’ between the two cultures.  Poetry speaks forth in all languages, across any divide.

Lady Nyo

Hi Jane,

You’ve raised an interesting point of discussion. On the surface of it, the difference between poetry and prose is, for most people, pretty clear – put a Stephen King novel and a Shakespeare sonnet next to each other and no-one will be confused as to which is prose and which is poetry. Using these simple examples, one could say that prose involves a plot-driven narrative written with sentences and paragraphs, whereas poetry involves short lines/line breaks, a more distilled use of language, and relies more on things like imagery and metaphor to express an idea. Speaking of ideas, a poem also usually focuses on one “idea”, whereas a novel, or even a short story, can contain numerous “ideas” that are expressed by the writer.

One could draw another comparison: a poem is to prose as a painting is to a movie. A painting is a single, still object that one tends to “contemplate”, whereas a movie is a sequence of multiple images that forms an ongoing narrative. On the other hand, to complicate matters, can a painting tell a “story”? Certainly. Can a movie be “poetic” without much of a story? Absolutely.

So when you look deeper into the prose/poetry matter, things start to get murky and fuzzy. What about those long book-length epic poems that tell whole stories (involving multiple characters, places and events) in verse? Is that primarily poetry or primarily prose? Hard to say.

What about the contemporary (one might even say, ‘avant garde’) “prose poem”? No line breaks, and often consisting of sentences and even dialogue…and yet…somehow, even with the modern “prose poem”, it’s possible to argue that, yes, it stretches the definition of poetry, but there is still something inherently “poetic” about it, a different use of language, a different mindset is apparent. (What kind of stuff am I referring to? As just one example, various kinds of “prose poems” can be found on this site – – if you poke around a bit.)

Other grey areas: can a novel be “poetic” and yet still be called a novel? Yes, I believe it can. A novel can be quite plotless sometimes and can employ rich imagery and metaphor where the focus is on the aesthetics of the words and wordplay rather than trying to tell a plot-driven “story”.

Can a poem use “prosaic” language and still be called poetry? Yes, I believe it can. Just look at Bukowski – very ordinary, everyday language a lot of the time, and if you re-formatted it, you could make it look exactly like prose and it would read perfectly well as prose. And yet…and yet…it “works” as poetry.

So it’s very difficult at times to draw the line between one and the other. Faced with these “grey areas”, oftentimes it comes down to a subjective judgement call on the part of the individual reader. And that’s fine. Who says that everything has to be black & white ALL the time? In the realm of art (and I consider both poetry and prose to be forms of art) there is a lot of crossover, intermingling of elements and techniques and sensibilities.

With writing that appears to straddle an uneasy border between poetry and prose, sometimes I have to rely on the old argument that someone once said about pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” This argument is plainly subjective (how could it be any other way?) and yet it contains a big dose of common sense that most people can understand, even if the lines between one thing and the other are shifting and blurry.

Jane, your poem, “Seasons change”, is a good case in point. Does it contain “sentences”? Yes. Does it tell a “story”? Yes, albeit loosely. Would it be possible to re-format it into “prose” without altering a single word? Yes, I think so. Given all that, then, is it still “poetry”? To my mind, the resounding answer is “yes”. There is a different ‘mindset’ apparent here. The piece has a contemplative atmosphere about it, the focus is introspective. There is also (and I know this is almost impossible to quantify or explain) a “poetic sensibility” present, in the particular choices of words and ideas expressed. So, yes, I think it could be re-written as a prose piece, but if it was – and here’s the important thing – *it wouldn’t be the same*. Something ineffable would be lost if it was converted to prose. So this is a good example where one could say, well, there are some prose-like things present here, but, it’s not prose, it’s poetry – *I know it when I see it*.

I enjoyed “Seasons change” very much, Jane, thanks for posting it here on your blog.


Nick: when I wrote “Seasons change” last year, I didn’t realize the ‘layers’ it had.  Obviously (or perhaps not) the narrator of the poem is talking to a dead woman: but it is surprising so many don’t realize this upon reading.  And that is fine.  I feel poems should actually be layered.  Layered in the sense that these few words should propel us backwards into the poem; raise up questions and perhaps a different understanding due to the individual reading of the poem.  Perhaps shades expresses the same sentiment.

To me, it is not enough to write a poem that just expresses an event or a memory.  It is not enough just to report something in your life without trying to ‘broaden’ the scope of the poem to resonate something deeper in the reader than just the words on the page.  This issue of ‘contemplation’ I think is very much part of that.

And about those words? I am of course, influenced by renga and waka (tanka) but the fewer well picked (words)  I think the better.

Poetry is a severe “sharpening” of words:

“The wind is like a sword tonight-

that does not sever sadness.

The moon is  like a hollowed orb-

that does not offer gladness.”

Lady Nyo

Some of Lady Nyo’s ‘small poems’.

June 15, 2009

LOL!  I AM Lady Nyo, and there are those who would quibble …but none the less,  I am.

I was asked recently who and what this Lady Nyo is.  Well, she’s a character I developed from my novel (on hold right now…) “The Kimono”.  It’s a novel about 21st century Mari, a Japanese-American woman who time travels back to the 16th century when she dons a haunted black kimono.  I have this kimono…well, I don’t know if it’s haunted, but it’s not that antique…more an Art Deco kimono.  I fell in love with it’s simplicity.  It is a heavy black crepe silk, a married woman’s kimono with 5 crests and a beautiful embossed silver stream (the only way I can describe it) that runs around the bottom of the kimono and up the front left panel, disappearing rather mysteriously into the interior of the kimono.

Lady Nyo is a married woman who is rather mouthy, a poet.  She is married to a samurai, and by rights is also samurai.  But she has a wonderful attitude towards strife and I draw  comfort from her goings on.  When life gets rough or confrontational, I hide behind her robes and watch how she handles things.  And if they get rough for her (as some characters in life can be…especially men, but not exclusively men….) out comes her short sword.  She can take heads, and not just the tips….

If people think Lady Nyo is submissive as some stereotype Japanese women, they have another thing coming.  She  is many layered, and I can’t think of a better ‘friend’ and confessor.

So, in a real sense, she is my alter ego, though my husband tells me not so alter.

Last summer, during a time of emotional strife, I picked up a book called  “Women Poets of Japan”, by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikukko Atsumi.  These are poems from the 8th century  to the 20th century.  They spoke so deeply to my own condition I wrote scribblings of my own poems upon the pages of this book, sometimes extending the short poems there, sometimes answering them.  No matter, they moved me deeply.  I ended up, on that trip, exploring more than poetry, but those poems  were a launching of the “Lady Nyo’s Poems” a four part poetry effort.

I have published the “Lady Nyo’s Poems” in my first book, “A Seasoning of Lust” this February, but had forgotten all these others.

So, I will post a few here, just because they throw me back to a time where I needed the guidance and comfort of these very dead women poets, –still speaking clearly through the centuries to one who was very much alive.  I just didn’t know how much alive.

The sprouting love waiting for spring

and the love that begins to wither,

were once the same,

a shared love in the woods.

They will meet with autumn now

and become sabi.


It was all in my mind!

Only a waking dream

full of ecstasy and sweet torment

offered by a ghost.


Which path is safest?

No matter.

I will stumble before you

on all of them.


While thinking of you

in the cold dawn,

the sun rose

breaking the night

and your face vanished.


Everyone is now asleep.

There is nothing

to come between

the moon and my shadow.


In my dreams and waking dreams

I open the door and

over and over see his face

for the first time.

For now it is enough.


Since you are gone,

and I am forgotten,

It would have been better

never to have met.



Fractured and split in two,

I entered a Shinto Temple

unsure I would be  welcome

with round eyes and graceless ways

but the priests were wiser

knowing me ‘worthy’

and with kindness and humor

helped knit back my parts,

and taught me to pray.


Lady Nyo.

Tanka trolling….

June 7, 2009

I have a few friends who  write marvelous lyric poetry, and know their way around the Japanese form of Tanka.  I will ask them to weigh in on this issue, but it might take some time.  They reside in different parts of the world and sometimes messages are delayed by monsoons, tidal waves and earthquakes.  Really.

But I went on a search for other writer’s impressions on tanka and these two below were ‘interesting’.  I can’t say that I can get my head around their definitions, but I am trying.  Perhaps it will make sense to others reading.

I’ll post some classical pieces at the end that I hope will illustrate this subject of tanka.

Lady Nyo

By Pat Shelley, from Footsteps in the Fog, Foster City, California: Press Here, 1994:

“Tanka in English is a small lyrical poem that belongs to everyone. Still written in thirty-one or fewer syllables in five rhythmic lines, as it was over 1,200 years ago, it can embrace all of human experience in its brief space with emotions of love, pity, suffering, loneliness, or death, expressed in the simplest language. It may sometimes seem fragmentary or lacking in unity because it is more intuitive than analytical, using imagery rather than abstractions . . . . One of the more challenging (and charming) of its elements is the subtle turn at the center of the poem, something unexpected perhaps, usually occurring after the second or third line as two seemingly unrelated events, images, or ideas are brought together, something less than narrative, an elliptical space that adds pleasure to our listening. Tanka is about our everyday lives in the smallest happenings, a little song of celebration.”

By Gerald St. Maur, from his 1999 Haiku Canada Newsletter article entitled “From Haiku to Tanka: Reversing Poetical History” (also published in the TSA Newsletter, II:1, Spring 2001)

In going beyond the experience of the moment, the tanka takes us from delight to fulfillment, from insight to comprehension, and psycho-organism to love; in general, from the spontaneous to the measured. To achieve this requires a fundamental shift in emphasis: from glimpse to gaze, from first sight to exploration, and from juxtaposition to interplay, in short, from awareness to perspective . . . .It is thus evident that to compose a tanka is to articulate reflectively . . . . It is a shift which, in general, takes us from the simple to the complex. More pointedly, it moves us from the poetry of the noun to the poetry of the verb; in weaving terms, from the thread to the tapestry; in botanical terms, from seed to plant; in chemical terms, from element to compound; in painting terms, from sketch to picture; and in musical terms, from chord to melody.”

Ok…..articulate reflectively….will try to get my mind around this.  Perhaps it’s not so hard to do, and perhaps we do it more naturally than we think.

A man whose mind is

At one with the sky-void steps

Inside a spring mist

And thinks to himself he might

In fact step right out of the world.


In my heart’s sore depth

I keep our secret smothered

although this morning

I suffer like a snipe scratching

it’s lice covered feathers.

–Akazome Emon (10th century)

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