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|Haiku and its related forms|
ARCHIVE: Waka, Tanka, Renga - Haiku!
by Janice M. Bostok
When we speak of haiku we are speaking of a very short poem with a very long history of development — and much baggage! This situation is also true of the tanka and we find that the history of the haiku and the tanka is somewhat interwoven.
In the beginning the three lines of verse which we might now recognise as 'Haiku' were the upper lines of the tanka. The tanka poem was originally adapted from the Chinese Waka poem. The waka has been written in Japan since the beginning of time. The Waka was also known as 'choka' or long poem. It was arranged with its phrases of five and seven sounds symbols in continuous short/long patterns.
'Tanka' has a specific short/long/short long/long pattern.
It may be undignified of me, but I think of the lines like leggo blocks! They fit together and one can keep building.
I'll just explain what I mean by 'tan renga' here. To distinguish the tanka written by two poets, from the other tanka which were written by one person, or the renga which were written by many poets, we now call them 'tan renga'. Very few examples of 'tan renga' (written by two persons) survived and it wasn't until around the eleventh century that the imperial anthology included this form.
Later, after 700 AD the tanka was used as the love poem. Not merely writing of one's love and desire, but actually using the form to send notes back and forth between lovers.
For many years, tanka was the courtly poetry of aristocracy. It was formal in tone and inaccessable to the common people. Waka, or tanka took Japanese poetry to its highest form through classical allusion, wordplay and symbolism. Through these devices they could create novel comparisons or contrasts that would expand the meaning of the poems. The poet of the day needed to be highly educated. As can be seen from the later example by Yosano Tekkan:
on the African continent
Western poetry's influence in the late nineteenth century in Japan brought tanka into a less favourable light. It was even feared that the traditional Japanese verse forms might not survive the onslaught and the popularity of western verse (particularly free verse) and its writers. This was a valid concern as renga became almost extinct in the early twentieth century.
Shiki tried to save the tanka from the influence of western free verse. This was very unusual as most Japanese poets write predominantly in one or other of the forms.
in the vase
For other young writers such as Tekkan and the young woman whom he later married Yosano Akiko, tanka became a vehicle for self expression and sensual love. Tekkan:
poppies in bloom
From the history of Waka/tanka it can be seen that it has taken on different roles over the many hundreds of years that it has been written in Japan. Because of its many facets tanka can be many things to many people, today. Some believe that tanka should stay centred in nature and the observation of nature. Others believe that tanka should be an expression of the writer's innermost feelings. Then there are those who think a combination of these two components are the ideal. When I learnt of tanka in the seventies I believed the first section should be like a haiku and the second section added the emotion.
You may notice the break in subject is in the older style, at the first 5-7.
One of the more modern styles is that of Ishikawa Takuboku (1886 - 1912). He wrote in an ironic, wry tone, of self examination. His influence can perhaps be seen in the work of Michael McClintock, today. Takuboku:
before my wife and child come home
Looking for comfort
Gerard John Conforti
There also appears to be a style of tanka which leads on from the senryu (or human interest) verses. Or perhaps it is a expansion of the self examination poem, examining others with the same ironic and wry tone.
Yosano Akiko and George Swede
committed by people
the news boggles my mind
If you'll notice, Choku's tanka on the page, it is written in three lines. Both Ishikawa Takuboku and Shaku Choku are poets who tried to modernise the tanka by writing in three groups of lines. A tanka in Japanese characters is written in two lines down the page. One is the 5-7-5 upper lines and the second one is the 7-7 lower lines.
While all traditional Japanese poetry is related and is sometimes called by the general term 'haikai'. Tanka, Renga, Haikai, Hokku, and Haiku are all considered to be distinct genres in Japan. It is of benefit to know these histories, for those of us in the West who wish to understand haiku a little more.
Modern Japanese Tanka, Edited and Translated by Makoto Ueda, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
Wind Five Folded: An Anthology of English-language Tanka, Compiled by Jane & Werner Reichhold, Gualala, CA: AHA books, 1994.
The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku, by William J. Higginson and Penny Harter, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985.
One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English by Hiroaki Sato, New York: Weatherhill, 1983.
Three Genres: Tanka, Renga, Haiku by William J. Higginson, Modern Haiku Vol. XXIV, No. 2 1993.