Posts Tagged ‘tanka’

TANKA…..

January 19, 2021

The fire of life

Is love. No exact measure.

A whirling dervish

Hands in opposite display

Gathers in the miracle.

…..

The human psyche

Waits like a garden spider

A delicate web

Weaving a catechism–

A mystical orb of life!

….

Thin, silken breezes

Float upon a green-fabric

Of spring—pale season.

Scent of lilies, myrtle, plum

Arouse bees from slumber

..

Autumn wind startles–
Lowered to an ominous
Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!
The fat mountain deer listen-
Add their bellowing sorrow.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2021

“Seasons Change” haibun

May 31, 2020

DSCF2570

(Watercolor above by author below)

For Frank Tassone….a wonderful haiku writer.

I love Haibun form, and I love to ‘answer’ the Haibun with other forms like Tanka and Haiku.  In this time of complex stress….it’s good to have this before my eyes.

Lady Nyo

Haibun:  Light filtering ….Seasons Change

 

Autumn wind startles–
Lowered to an ominous
Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!
The fat mountain deer listen-
Add their bellowing sorrow.

 

The gingko filters the sunlight, the ground a crescent- printed cloth fit for a yukata.  It hits my hands and feet, creating white scars that do not burn.  I welcome the sun.  My bones grow thin.

This passage, from summer to fall, eternal movement of Universal  Design, counts down the years I have left.  There is so much more to savor.  Two lives would not be enough.

Tsuki, a beggar’s cup too thin to fatten the road, still shines with a golden brightness, unwavering in the chill aki wind. The Milky Way reigns over all.

 

Sharp moon cuts the sky

The fierce wind from the mountains

Disturbs dragonflies.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Seasons Change” ..a haibun.

July 19, 2019

kohut-Bartels-LS-7

(“Canada Geese”, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels)

 

Utilizing Tanka form and Haiku.

 

Autumn wind startles–
Lowered to an ominous
Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!
The fat mountain deer listen-
Add their bellowing sorrow.

 

 

The gingko filters the sunlight, the ground a crescent- printed cloth fit for a yukata. It hits my hands and feet, creating white scars that do not burn. I welcome the sun. My bones grow thin.

This passage, from summer to fall, eternal movement of Universal Design, counts down the years I have left. There is so much more to savor. Two lives would not be enough.

Tsuki, a beggar’s cup too thin to fatten the road, still shines with a golden brightness, unwavering in the chill aki wind. The Milky Way reigns over all.

 

Sharp moon cuts the sky

The fierce wind from the mountains

Disturbs dragonflies.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2019

Tanka Presentation For The Curious

May 18, 2019

Man'yoshu image II

 

I wrote this essay for a now-gone poetry group.  Poetry groups blossom and wither, but there is always something you learn.

 

The morning wren sings

I stand in the moonlit dawn

Kimono wrapped close

Last night I made my peace

Now free from all attachments

Lady Nyo

 

To understand tanka  go back into the Japanese literary history of the 8th and 9th century. Poets of this time, male poets, the only ones who counted in court anthologies, were writing in a Chinese poetic technique. They were still not able to use the language skillfully enough to present their own emotions. This would take another century but by the 10th century, women were using a new written language- kanji-something definitely Japanese, to write their poetry. And they, for the next two centuries, excelled in it. We’ll go over some of these poets who made such a mark on the literature of Japan, especially in the development and formation of tanka verse.

Tanka, whose earlier name was waka, was described in this way: “ Japanese verse is something which takes root in the soil of the heart and blossoms forth in a forest of words.”

This is a hint how tanka developed and its usage. Tanka, if nothing else, was the medium for lovers: written on a special paper, or a fan, or wrapped around a small branch of a flowering plum or cherry, it was the communication between a man and a woman.

There are so many social aspects of Japanese society to consider: married couples for a certain class (usually court people) didn’t live together. Perhaps a wife had her own quarters in a compound, or perhaps she lived in another town. A tanka was composed, a personal messenger delivered the poem, waited, was given a drink, flirted with the kitchen maids, and an answering poem was brought back.

People were judged as to how “good” their poetry was.

In the court, especially during the Heian court of the 12th century, tanka became one of the greatest literary influences. It developed great adherents to the form and large and prestigious competitions were developed by nobles and priests alike. Usually the striving was for the most ‘refined’ tanka composed. This lead to some very restricted poems because there were limited themes thought to be ‘proper’ amongst these competitions. Praise of nature, the Emperor, and more praise of the Emperor were pretty much the court poems.

However, it was still the written form of communication between interested parties and lovers. Poetry from that time, outside the court issue, still exalts the passions—makes connection between hearts —it fertilizes the soil of humanity.

 

Before I go into the ‘form’ of tanka, its development stylistically, I want to reveal the poets that drew me to tanka form. There were many early Japanese tanka writers, and some excellent verse written by Emperors, but these poets below have found their way into my heart and have become great influences in my own work. Ono no Komachi, Izumi Shikibu and Saigyo .

The first two were court women, great poets, and the third was a Buddhist priest. Saigyo is perhaps the most influential poet to come out of Japan. Even the famous haikuist Basho (17th century) said he studied Saigyo as his base for poetry.

Saigyo came from the Heian Court in the 12 century. He was of a samurai/warrior family and at the age of 23 he became a priest. He was always worried that his warrior background (he did serve as samurai) would ‘taint’ his Buddhist convictions and practice.   His solution was to wander the mountains and roads of Japan for decades. He left the court when the whole Japanese world was turning upside down with politics and the beginnings of civil war. He was dissatisfied with the poetry coming out of the court, and since he had developed a taste for tanka, he took this on the road with him, as he went across Japan and wrote his observations of the landscape, the moon and the people in tanka form.

For those who want a deeper history of Saigyo, read William LaFleur’s “Awesome Nightfall” about the life and times of Saigyo.

Saigyo’s wandering all over Japan was not so unusual. There were many groups of priests who went out to beg and some to write poetry and their observations. Saigyo travelled with other priests and welcomed their company on the lonely treks through mountains and remote terrain. Some were spies for the Court. One couldn’t really tell, because many priests wore a large woven basket over their heads, extending down past their shoulders. Some were Shakhauchi flute players who would play their wooden flutes under the basket as they walked.

What was so different about Saigyo was his interest in the common man. He wrote tanka about fishermen, laborers, prostitutes, nuns (who sometimes were prostitutes); more than the general poems of lovers, court, emperors, landscape. Of course the terrain he passed through figured as a background in his tanka, but he wrote so much more. Tanka is a vehicle for very expressive, emotional verse. Saigyo’s tanka spoke of his loneliness, his conflict as to his samurai background and how it would effect his Buddhist beliefs, and so much more over the decades of his roaming.

Generally Saigyo adheres to the 5-7-5-7-7 structure of tanka, but he is not shy about throwing in a ‘mora’ or two extra. I will give the original in Japanese of one poem, because the translation into English doesn’t necessarily follow the 5-7-5 etc. structure when translated.

1.

Tazunekite

Kototou hito no

Naki yado ni

Ko no ma no tsuki no

Kage zo sashikuru

 

“This place of mine

Never is entered by humans

Come for conversation.

Only by the mute moon’s light shafts

Which slip in between the trees.

 

2.

The mind for truth

Begins, like a stream, shallow

At first, but then

Adds more and more depth

While gaining greater clarity.

 

3.

(Remembering a lover)

The moon, like you,

Is far away from me, but it’s

Our sole memento:

If you look and recall our past

Through it, we can be one mind.

 

4.

Here I’ve a place

So remote, so mountain-closed,

None comes to call.

But those voices! A whole clan

Of monkeys on the way here!

 

5.

(On love like fallen leaves)

Each morning the wind

Dies down and the rustling leaves

Go silent: was this

The passion of all-night lovers

Now talked out and parting?

 

I find Saigyo to be such a wonderful, human and humane poet that I can fill my head and eyes with his poetry and be satisfied. This is only a teaser of his superb verse, but in a definite way shows the brilliance, power and inventiveness of the short burst of tanka. Of course, in the hands of Saigyo, the common becomes memorable and he is just one, but perhaps the best of tanka writers. There is so much more to and of Saigyo, and of his tanka, but there are others I want to mention in this segment.

Quoting from “Ink Dark Moon”, Hirshfield and Aratani:

“Ono no Komachi (834?-?) served at the imperial court in the capital city of Heian-kyo (present day Kyoto) during the first half century of its existence; her poetry, deeply subjective, passionate, and complex, helped to usher in a poetic age of personal expressiveness, technical excellence and philosophical and emotional depth. Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?) wrote during the times of the court culture’s greatest flowering; a woman committed to a life of both religious consciousness and erotic intensity, Shikibu explored her experience in language that is precise in observation, intimate, and deeply moving. These two women , the first a pivotal figure who became legendary in Japanese literary history, the second Japan’s major woman poet, illuminated certain areas of human experience with a beauty, truthfulness and compression unsurpassed in the literature of any other age.”

There is so much more to be learned about these two women poets, but perhaps it is enough to give examples of their poetry here without further delay.

(These are not my translations: I am continuing to study the Japanese language, but my abilities are sorely short here. I can recognize many words, but Japanese is particularly difficult in the arrangement. These translations are from “Ink Dark Moon”, mentioned above.)

As with Saigyo, Ono no Komachi mostly writes in the 5-7-5-7-7 form of tanka.

 

1.

Hito ni awan

Tsuki no naki yow a

Omoiokite

Mune bashiribi ni

Kokoro yake ori

 

No way to see him

On this moonless night—

I lie awake longing, burning,

Breasts racing fire,

Heart in flames.

 

What is so striking about this poem is the imagery. No way to see her lover without the light of the moon, perhaps she dare not strike a light. But the repeated imagery of light: flames, fire, burning clearly relays her desire. “Heart in flames” is common, but “Breasts racing fire” pushing this poem up a notch.

2.

Since this body

Was forgotten

By the one who promised to come,

My only thought is wondering

Whether it even exists.

 

We have all been there: this feeling of unreality, surreal, even, in our relationship to another. Do we exist independently of the one we deeply love? Would we exist without them?

 

This next one is something so universal it needs no explanation.

3.

I thought to pick

The flower of forgetting

For myself,

But I found it

Already growing in his heart.

 

These are only a few examples of her unmatched poetry. She is so much fuller as a poet and woman then what I have quoted here.

 

Izumi Shikibu is a poet that can make one uncomfortable in the reading. Her poems are so personal, so erotic , you feel at times like a voyageur.   There is an emotional depth, a vibrancy that sings through her verse and goes deep into the heart of human experience.

 

1.

Lying alone,

My black hair tangled,

Uncombed,

I long for the one

Who touched it first.

 

2.

In this world

Love has no color—

Yet how deeply

My body

Is stained by yours.

 

3.

When a lover was sent a purple robe he left behind:

 

Don’t blush!

People will guess

That we slept

Beneath the folds

Of this purple-root rubbed cloth.

 

4.

If only his horse

Had been tamed

By my hand—I’d have taught it

Not to follow anyone else!

 

There is no wilting flower in the poem above!

 

This last poem quoted here is hard to read. Shikibu’s daughter Naishi has died, snow fell and melted. The reference to ‘vanish into the empty sky’, is referring to the smoke of cremation. The grief felt in this poem is overwhelming and speaks across the centuries.

 

Why did you vanish

Into empty sky?

Even the fragile snow,

When it falls,

Falls into this world.

 

These are just a few examples of the rich literary tradition of Japanese Tanka. To me, they speak cross cultures and time. They speak directly to the human heart.

The next section will be about the formation of tanka, the classical measures within tanka, the pivotal words, and other issues. I will end with some examples of my own tanka.

 

Lady Nyo

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

A few favorite tanka….

October 9, 2018

Kohut-Bartels-LS-17

(Oil, “Dusk”, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2002)

 

 

Mist drifts in waves

Ribbon-ing maple branches

The rising of moon

Make Egrets shimmer silver-

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

 

 

Like the lithe bowing

Of a red maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

 

How could I forget

The beauty of the pale moon!

A face of sorrow

Growing thin upon the tide

No one now visits me.

 

——

The full moon above

floats on blackened velvet seas,

poet’s perfection!

But who does not yearn for a

crescent in lavender sky?

Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

The fat mountain deer listen-

Add their bellowing sorrow.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Random Tanka”

September 7, 2018

Kohut-Bartels-LS-2

1.

 

The fire of life

Is love. No exact measure

A whirling dervish

Hands in opposite display

Gathers in the miracle

 

2.

Sound of frog-cries heard
A pale moon floats above pond
Fresh life is stirring
An early owl goes hunting
Wise mice scatter for cover

 

3.

 

Cranes wheeled in the sky

Their chiding cries fell to hard earth

Warm mid winter day

A pale half moon calls the birds

To stroke her face with soft wings

 

4.

 

Human frailties

wounds that bleed such heated blood

leave a dry vessel

Without the moisture of love

the clay reverts to the ground

 

5.

 

Glimpse of a white wrist

Feel the pulse of blood beneath-

This is seduction!

But catch a wry, cunning smile

One learns all is artifice.

 

6.

 

Overhead! Look! cranes,

Sandhills– swirl in broad circles.

Broken GPS?

No matter, their cries fall like

Celestial chiding rain.

 

7.

 

The futility

Of love should queer the seeking-

But it never does.

Hopeful, yearning, we are fools

Ignoring our history.

 

8.

 

Presence of Autumn

Burst of color radiates

From Earth-bound anchors

Sun grabs prismatic beauty

And tosses the spectrum wide!

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2017

 

Sesshu painting

“A Few Tanka”

April 15, 2018

kohut-Bartels-LS-9

(Water color with gold leaf:  “Hummers”, Jane Kohut-Bartels)

Mist drifts in waves
Ribbon-ing maple branches
The rising of moon
Make Egrets shimmer silver-
Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

Cranes wheeled in the sky
Their chiding cries fell to hard earth
Warm mid winter day
A pale half moon calls the birds
To stroke her face with soft wings.

How could I forget
The beauty of the pale moon!
A face of sorrow
Growing thin upon the tide,

disappearing into dawn.

Autumn wind startles–
Lowered to an ominous
Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!
The fat mountain deer listen-
Add their bellowing sorrow.

I wander the fields
Snow covers the barren soil
Sharp wind plays pan pipes
A murder of crows huddle
Black laughing fruit hang from limbs

Jane Kohut- Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

“Gauzy Ghosts”……

February 16, 2018

crescent-moon

Frank Hubeny, over at dversepoets.com is hosting right now and challenges us to write short verse.  Maybe tanka, maybe other forms…but brevity is the key.

Lady Nyo

The moon floats on wisps
Of clouds extending outward
Tendrils of white fire
Blanketing the universe
Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

A companion piece written the same time….

Shooting star crosses
Upended bowl of deep night
Imagination!
Fires with excited gaze-
A moment– and all is gone.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“A Few Haiku, a Few Tanka”

January 16, 2018

My beautiful picture

Madame Carriere climbed up the second story window but alas!  Was cut back.  In a few years she  grew 20×20 feet.  Amazing rose.  Have replaced her with another one.

 

Because I am so cold, I thought a few springish haiku and tanka would take my mind off Winter.  It’s not working.

Haiku

Dogwoods are blooming
The crucifixion appears
White moths in the night.

(Dogwoods are a Southern tree here in the South.  White blooms
having the form of the Christian Cross, with nail heads.  They bloom in the spring  right before Easter. They are a symbol of Christianity in Nature.)

Under the dark moon

I awaited your return

Only shadows came.

The moon, a ghostly

Sliver, sails on a jet sea

Wild dogs howl beneath.

A woman in bed

Kimono revealing breast

Snow on Mt. Fuji

Tibetan earthworms

Bring a halt to all labor.

Here? Fat koi eat well.

Rooster doesn’t crow

Night’s loud thunder and lightning

Ruins his morning voice.

Even the hoot owls

Are silent this stormy night

Wind muffles their cries.

Tanka

The fire of life

Is love. No exact measure.

A whirling dervish

Hands in opposite display

Gathers in the miracle.

Spring


The sound of frog-calls,
In the pond floats a pale moon
Fresh life is stirring
An early owl goes hunting
Wise mice scatter for cover.

Thin, silken breezes

Float upon a green-ribbon

Of spring—pale season.

Scent of lilies, myrtle, plum

Arouse bees from slumber.

Restless and confused,

Birds cry out, sky darkening

Rain lashes, flooding

Freshly planted fields drown

Wind sails red tiles from  roofs.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 


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