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.


Prompt #14 : Saturdays, Flat Stanley and Rengay

Well, I’ve finally caved in to my (ridiculously busy) life and abandoned the “new poetry prompt on Thursday” problem. New prompts will still appear, but now they’ll appear on Saturdays. Here is the first prompt-on-Saturday. Today we are going to write rengay!

I’m not an experienced rengay poet. I love short forms (as you’ll recall from previous posts) but I’m not an expert. I have however used this form to teach before, as some kids find it wonderful to write together — it gives them a break for staring at the page alone. I hope today’s rengay prompt will get me writing something new as well as encourage you. Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there about this form, which we can all learn from.

Here’s what Michael Dylan Welch has to say: “The rengay is a collaborative six-verse linked thematic poem written by two or three poets using alternating three-line and two-line haiku or haiku-like stanzas in a regular pattern. The pattern for two people is A-3, B-2, A-3, B-3, A-2, B-3, with the letters representing the poets, and the numbers indicating the number of lines in each given verse. For three people the pattern is A-3, B-2, C-3, A-2, B-3, C-2. Unlike renku, […] a rengay stay[s] in one season and develop[s] a single theme. Since they are brief, rengay are also more easily remembered than renku, and more likely to be published in the various haiku journals. […] Rengay was first publicly introduced at the November 1, 1992 meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California in San Francisco.”

Rengay is a recently invented form, similar to renga, also a collaborative form of poetry from Japan. Rengay is also related to renku, a longer collaborative Japanese form.

Because rengay are long-ish, I won’t reproduce any here. Frongpond (the Journal of the Haiku Society of America) offers this sample.

I am planning to write a rengay today with my daughter. She’s agreed to collaborate with me. We are doing this in part to complete a visit of Flat Stanley to our house. I want to write a poem together with Stanley, but he’s mute on the idea. So, Stella will help and channel Stanley’s poetry onto the page.

(For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Flat Stanley, you can read more here and here and here.)

The resulting poem will also be posted on here and on Tumblr.

Have fun with your rengay and a friend. Please let me know how it goes.

Prompt #13: January 2, 2014

Happy New Year!

Short on time while the holiday bells of family, friends and parties are still ringing, I have been writing snatches and snippets, but no real poems. Then! I stumbled upon a delightful little (and surprisingly powerful) form called the zip.

My friend Michael Dylan Welch, the current PL of Redmond, Washington, is a renowned poet, specializing in Japanese traditional forms. You can check out his work starting with his blog Graceguts. Michael shared the news earlier this week that the English poet, John Carley, passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. Michael challenged us, as a way to celebrate Carley’s life, to write a poem in the zip format he invented. Never having heard of a zip haiku, I was intrigued!

According to a 2001 article by Carley, a zip is “proposed as an analogue to the Japanese haiku, but uses a form more suited to the innate phonic and semantic qualities of English. The zip employs fifteen syllables, two weak pauses and one strong. The poem is centred on the caesura.

What could be better. Short poems for the crazy holiday season, or those crazy days in my PAD project when I am stuck at work late, exhausted, grumpy, etc. And a “real” form. So, I took up the challenge. I’ve written two in the past two days, and whether they are good or not, only time will tell. I love them. The first is a moment remembered from my daughter’s beach party and the second is a reflection on my mother’s upcoming birthday in Maine.

Write your own!!!


making faces     around the fire
beer bottles      marshmallow smoke

# 2

    January      glittering blue and white
the shape of     windows