Japanese Poetry

As part of my 2015 International Poetry Cantos celebration, April (which is also National Poetry Month, and so quite crowded) is also my opportunity to celebrate Japanese poetry.

I’ll be attending the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, Saturday April 25, which is sponsored by “Cupertino Toyokawa” — the Sister City relationship between Toyokawa, Japan and Cupertino, established in 1978. Come by and chat, and if you’ve got Japanese poetry to share, please please please bring it by booth 15.

I can’t begin to link here all the splendor and history that is the poetry of Japan. Ancient and strong, the tradition is powerful and delicate at the same time. Here are a couple of links, however, to get you started.

Wikipedia does a good job of getting us started.


Here are some biographies (in English) of famous historical Japanese (in America) poets:

  • Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) here and here.
iza saraba / yukimi ni korobu / tokoromade

now then, let’s go out / to enjoy the snow… until / I slip and fall! [1688]
  • Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828) here and here. Translated by Robert Hass here and here.
  • Yosa Buson (1716-1784)  translated by Matthew Rohrer here. And by Edith Shiffert here (below).

The light of a candle
               is transferred to another candle—
               spring twilight.

Read more about Japanese forms at these links:

Michael Dylan Welch (Japanese poetry aficionado and current PL of Redmond Washington) deserves his own shout out. Learn all about Japanese poetry at his website, Graceguts. This tanka is by MDW.

tanka from Graceguts

And, in case you are beginning to wonder if Japanese poetry ended with the death of Issa in the 19th century, or was only written by men, these links provides a wonderful orientation to modern Japanese poetry and poetry by Japanese women.

  • Poetry Kanto — Japan’s longest-running bilingual poetry journal. Really.


Before I Die I Want To . . .

Have you ever thought of writing your New Years resolutions, wishes, dreams, plans, goals — as a poem? I’m going to try to get mine into rhyme. Wouldn’t that be fun. To live life in rhyme.

Before I die I want to sing
Before I die I want to walk
Before I die I want to blink
Before I die I want to wing

Here’s a list of New Year’s Poems from the Poetry Foundation. I snagged this photo from their site, too, (by Derek Keats).


If you click through to read Robert Haas’ “After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa” you will encounter this haiku.

New Year’s morning—
everything is in blossom!
   I feel about average.
I think this will be my New Year’s resolution, goal. To feel about average every day. On days when I feel good, I’ll be slightly ahead, and on days when I don’t, I won’t be too disappointed. And if you’re not worried about how you’re feeling, you can enjoy the view of everything in blossom. Everything.
Happy New Year poetry people.