Forgotten Winter Snows, BlackBerry Shots, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, April 2010, photo © 2010-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
New Beginnings, New Moon. It’s a good time to start projects and yearly practices. The tradition of haiku on red Ravine began in January 2008 with the piece haiku (one-a-day). It is a practice born from reading Clark Strand’s Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey during a year-long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico. The response from our readers was so great, that we continued the practice with haiku 2 (one-a-day), adding the poetic forms of tanka and renga, and creating a community haiku practice that would span two years.
Thanks to our faithful readers and haiku poets, January 2011 will jump-start our 4th year of haiku practice on red Ravine. haiku 4 (one-a-day) granted me the opportunity to do further research on the history of Japanese poetry and led me to the forms of gogyohko, haibun, and haiga. This year’s challenge is to continue to co-create and build on the poems of other haiku writers with tanka and renga, while exploring the additional forms of gogyohko, haibun, and haiga. [Note: For our new readers, I am reposting information on haiku, senryu, tanka, and renga. For the three new forms, scroll down to gogyohko. Makes the post lengthy, but worthy of a whole year of poetry!]
Along with haiku practice in 2011, I’m doing two collaborations with A~Lotus, one which we call Renga 52. (The other is a BlackBerry 52 practice which I will write about later.) In Renga 52, we are going to keep one renga going in the comments on this post for the entire 52 weeks of 2011. We will each add to Renga 52 at least once a week. You are welcome to participate. Simply jump into Renga 52 in the comment section anytime you wish. Here’s to health and prosperity in the coming year!
haiku & senryu (part one)
Haiku uses simple, direct language, words that evoke a season, and usually incorporates a cutting or pivot word, so that one half of a haiku seems to speak to the other. According to Patterns In Poetry, haiku is closely tied to the Japanese aesthetic of Yugen and the spirituality of Buddhism. It is written in a 17-syllable form (usually three lines of 5-7-5) that looks deceptively simple. Yet if you read the work of the masters like Basho, Buson, and Issa, wandering poets who lived during Japan’s Edo-period (1600-1868), it becomes clear that the practice of haiku can take years to master.
Senryu is similar to haiku but strays from seasonal or nature themes. According to Simply Haiku, senryu focuses on people and portrays characteristics of human beings and foibles, and the psychology of the human mind. Senryu can express human misfortunes or the hardships of humanity, and even when they depict living things or inanimate objects, human attributes are emphasized.
What both haiku and senryu have in common is that they derive from a form of Japanese court poetry called tanka.
Characteristics of haiku:
17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)
Simple, direct, non-metaphorical language
Captures a transitory insight or moment in time called satori or the aha moment
Contains a kigo, an image of nature that evokes a particular season
Contains a cutting or pivot word that turns the movement of the poem
Based on experience, speaks of the common, in the moment, just as it is
tanka (part two)
Tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form, was often written to explore religious or courtly themes and had a structure of five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. One person would contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the tanka, and a different author would complete the poem by composing a 7-7 section and adding a pivot point such as in this tanka from George Knox at Aha! Poetry:
in the check-out line
a worn face ahead of me
turns tentatively. . .
realities of desire
fade in final reckoning
-tanka by George Knox
Characteristics of tanka:
31 syllables, 5 lines
Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku.
Another person picks up the first 3 lines and writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables.
Can reflect nature or lean toward senryu
Emotional, contemplative, imaginative, reflective, written to be chanted
renga (part three)
Renga (linked elegance) is a form of linked poetry which evolved from tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form. In renga’s 800 year history it has gone through many ideological changes. (And it was Basho who, after 500 years, snipped off the first three lines of renga to form haiku.)
In renga, one person would often contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the poetic chain and a different author would complete the chain by composing a 7-7 section. Then another author would build on the previous 7-7, with another 5-7-5 passage. This chaining of verses or renga, could sometimes add up to hundreds of linked tanka.
The first part of the poem, called hokku or “starting verse,” frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem, and the authors of hokku often earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.
Characteristics of renga:
Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku. Hand this poem to another person.
Second person writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables. Then the second person hands off the completed tanka to a third person.
Third person writes another 3 lines of (5-7-5), beginning a new tanka
Continue in this way until you run out of time or feel that the poem is complete.
Contains a bridge or pivot point that links to the emotional element
Don’t try to force the storyline. When writing a response to the previous poem, focus only on the last section of the tanka, not the whole poem.
Think of each stanza as a springboard from which you are going to jump. The important thing to watch is what happens between the links.
gogyohka (part four)
Gogyohka is a relatively new form of Japanese short poetry founded and pioneered by Japanese poet Enta Kusakabe. In 1957, at the age of 19, Kusakabe developed the concept of Gogyohka in order to create a freer form of verse. According to his website, The Gogyohka Society, gogyohka is pronounced go-gee-yoh-kuh (the “g”s are hard as in “good”), and literally translated means “five line poem.”
Gogyohka is five lines of free verse on any subject matter. There is no set syllable pattern or requirement for the length of its lines, but they should be short and succinct — governed by the duration of a single breath. The goal is to practice self-reflection and contemplation by distilling an idea, observation, feeling, memory, or experience into just a few words. I am new to the form, but here is an example by Rodlyn Douglas at The Gogyohka Society:
Have you loved enough
to know the taste
of blood on the tongue
of one who has been bitten
-gogyohka by Rodlyn Douglas
Characteristics of gogyohka:
5 lines of free verse
No set syllable pattern
Short & succinct lines, governed by the duration of a single breath
- Captures an idea, memory, observation or feeling in a few compelling words
haibun (part five)
Contemporary haibun is a combination of prose and haiku poetry sometimes described as a narrative of epiphany. What makes the haibun electric is the contrast between the prose and the haiku. According to The Haiku Society of America, haibun is a terse, short prose poem in the haikai style, which may include light humor as well as more serious elements. A haibun usually ends with a haiku. Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Longer haibun may contain haiku interspersed between sections of prose, but the connections may not be immediately obvious. The haiku may serve to deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction.
Japanese haibun is thought to have developed from brief notes written to introduce individual haiku, but soon grew into a distinct genre. The word haibun can be applied to longer works, such as the memoirs, diaries, or travel writings of haiku poets. According to Contemporary Haibun Online, haibun is the Japanese name for 17th Century monk Basho Matsuo’s travel journals. Basho’s view of haibun was haikai no bunsho – “writing in the style of haiku.” His best-known works, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling, were poetic prose, studded with haiku. Saga Nikki (Saga Diary) documents the day-to-day activities on a summer retreat with his disciples. Here is a contemporary example of a beautiful haibun from Contemporary Haibun:
By The Bay
Dusk turns the water into a fire opal.
The fragrance of fresh earth merges
in the air with white flowers.
Waves seem to whisper through the
western windows of the cabin my grand-
father built for my grandmother.
“Love poems” she once told me.
As I hold you in the dark, I recall her
wistful sighs on the porch, rocking to
the rhythm of the sea.
summer dawn –
I rinse the sand
from the sheets
-haibun by Hortensia Anderson
Characteristics of haibun:
Combines prose & haiku
Written with the brevity & conciseness of haiku
- Dependent on images, syntax dominated by imagery
Combines light humor & serious elements
- Ranges from less than 100, up to 300 words
Usually ends in a haiku
haiga (part six)
Haiga (Hai means comic and Ga means painting) is a style of Japanese painting based on the aesthetics of haikai, from which haiku poetry derives. Traditionally, haiga combined a haiku poem (written in calligraphy) with a simple painting and was based on simple, but profound, observations of the everyday world. In Haiga: Haiku, Calligraphy, & Painting, Poets.org describes traditional haiga as haiku’s more visual cousin. Some of the early masters were Morikawa Kyoroku, Sakaki Hyakusen, Takebe Socho, and Yosa Buson. Contemporary haiga often adds digital imagery to haiku poetry by the juxtaposition of a photograph to a poem. Or by overlaying the poem on to the image. As we have found on red Ravine, there is a natural inclination to combine haiku poetry forms and digital photography. At Daily Haiga, you can see examples of blended poetry and photography.
Characteristics of haiga:
Combines haiku & a simple painting, photograph, piece of art
- Images restrained, minimal ink strokes, light colors
- Free flowing with no unnecessary detail
- Light, ironic, amusing, even when subject is serious
- Unromantic, down to earth, humorous
- Ordinary, day-to-day subjects and objects
Feel free to drop a haiku into this space anytime, day or night. Or join the word play and collaborative effort of tanka and renga. I’m excited to explore the 5-line form of gogyohka, and have already started writing haibun in my Journal 365 practice this year. I thought it would be fun to continue to explore these ancient forms of Japanese poetry, and see where the journey takes us.
Also, it’s okay to experiment, break form, and move out of the traditional structures. English syllables translate differently than onji. And according to Richard MacDonald (from his essay What is Tanka?), Japanese poetry is syllabic by nature and not metrical or rhymed, because like the French language, the Japanese language lacks stress accents.
There are different schools of thought about how rigid one should be in counting syllables. From what I have read, it is a matter of personal taste whether to stay close to the Japanese model, or stray from it for personal reasons or aesthetics in order to incorporate Western heritage into poetic work. The most important thing is to relax and have fun with it!
Option 1 – haiku
Drop in a haiku or senryu, 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)
Option 2 – tanka
Grab another poet’s haiku, and write the 2 additional 7 syllable lines to create a tanka
Option 3 – renga
- Grab a tanka created by 2 other poets, and, focusing on the last 2 lines, start the beginning of a new tanka (5-7-5) to be completed by the next poet
Option 4 – gogyohka
Write a gogyohka, 5 lines of free verse, governed by the length of a single breath, no set syllable patterns
Option 5 – haibun
Write a haibun, combining prose & haiku, less than 100 – 300 words, ends in haiku
Option 6 – haiga
Drop in a link to a haiga you created, blending or juxtaposing a haiku with painting, photo, or any form of visual art
bridge — word, or words leading the reader from the nature image to the statement of emotion
cutting (kireji) – Punctuation mark or word that divides a haiku into two parts. A cutting can be a hyphen, ellipses, colon or a word.
gogyohka — 5 lines of free verse on any subject matter, each line the length of one breath, no set syllable pattern
haibun — terse, relatively short prose poem (100-300 words) in the haikai style, usually including both lightly humorous and more serious elements, ending with a haiku.
haiga — combining a haiku poem (written in calligraphy) with a simple painting. Contemporary haiga combines digital imagery, photographs, other art forms with haiku.
haikai — short for haikai no renga, the popular style of Japanese linked verse originating in the 16 Century, as opposed to the earlier aristocratic renga. In both Japanese and English, the word haikai can also refer to all haiku-related literature.
hokku — first part of a renga, hokku is a “starting verse” that frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Authors of hokku earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.
kigo — A seasonal reference in haiku. Usually a kigo has accumulated resonances and associations with earlier haiku and Japanese aesthetics about time.
onji – Japanese syllables. The language differences between Japanese and English are vast and complex. Converting onji to syllables may not always be a one for one process.
pivot word – A word in a haiku poem that changes, or turns the direction of the poem
renga — Japanese poetic form made up of linked tanka verse; the word renga means “linked elegance”
satori – A moment of insight or reflection that emerges in a Haiku poem (usually around the cutting or pivot word)
tanka – Japanese poetic form that is made up of 5 lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count. Haiku derives from tanka.
yugen — Japanese term for beauty that suggests mystery, depth and a tinge of sadness
RESOURCES USED IN WRITING THIS PIECE:
- The Gogyohka Poetry Society – fantastic resource on Gogyohka, founded by Enta Kusakabe, the creator of Gogyohka.
- contemporary haibun online – definitions, essays, examples of haibun
- Haiga: Haiku, Calligraphy, & Painting – article on origins of haiga at Poets.org
- Patterns In Poetry - great basic site for haiku, tanka, renga. Distills everything down to the simplest terms. Very helpful when first learning about the concepts.
- Aha! Poetry - In depth reviews and one of the best Internet resources for haiku. Edited by Jane Reichhold; features articles, advice, critiques, contests.
- What Is Tanka? — an essay by Richard MacDonald at Aha! Poetry
- Tanka vs Haiku – by Jane Reichhold at Aha! Poetry
- Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey by Clark Strand — wonderful book for learning about the spiritual practice of haiku and the inspiration for red Ravine’s first haiku (one-a-day) post
- Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry - original contributions from new poets
- The Haiku Society of America - educational resources, contests, and magazine. Founded in 1968 to promote the writing and appreciation of haiku in English.
-posted on red Ravine at the first New Moon, Wednesday, January 5th, 2011