Posts Tagged ‘tanka’

Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka

January 9, 2021

Discovering and writing haiku and tanka

Many years ago, at a local bookstore I used to frequent, I came across a profound little poem on a poster with a beautiful image from nature. The name of the poet, Kiyo, appeared under the poem. It may have been the first type of Japanese poetry I’d ever read, in English translation of course. I had discovered haiku—a 3-line poem of 5-7-5 syllables respectively. I had written it down and recently found it. Here it is.

Softly unfolding,
Beauty awakens each heart
to wonder … to life.

I’d never heard of Kiyo. Did a search and found Ungo Kiyo (1582–1659), a Japanese Rinzai Zen master and poet. Couldn’t find any more poetry, just a quote on enlightenment in an antique book of calligraphy.

Even though we can’t adequately translate haiku into English due to the syntactical differences of a pictorial language, an important aspect of it was explained to me by a Japanese TM teacher I had met on an international course. Haiku was part of his educational upbringing. They usually have a seasonal reference. To be effective, the first 2 lines describe something in nature, but the 3rd line brings in another element that causes the mind to skip a beat, have an ‘aha’ moment of realization.

Kiyo’s beautiful short poem inspired me to start writing haiku and then tanka, a 2-stanza poem combining haiku with 2 lines of 7 syllables each. The second part would continue the theme of the first part, but give it a slightly new angle. In olden times, the Japanese court poets used to compete with each other in rounds of tanka called renga, linked verses.

I wrote my first haiku after a walk-and-talk about relationships with a lady friend. I noticed a furry caterpillar crawling on the ground. It became the metaphor for a poem on commitment and spiritual transformation.

Transformed

Caterpillars spin
increments of commitment;
Butterflies fly free!

I wrote many haiku and tanka over the years. I even wrote Haiku on The Nature of Haiku, which was very meta. These first 4 haiku—Defined, Discovered, Transformed, Translated—were among the 13 Ways to Write Haiku: A Poet’s Dozen, published in The Dryland Fish, An Anthology of Contemporary Iowa Poets.

Five Haiku, selected from The Dryland Fish; Cold Wet Night, a tanka; and Poetry—The Art of the Voice, a poem; were published in This Enduring Gift—A Flowering of Fairfield Poetry. The University of Iowa’s “Iowa Writes” program also published Five Haiku on The Daily Palette.

Defined

3 lines, 2 spaces,
17 feet to walk thru;
then,   the unending

Discovered

a poem unfolds
as words take their place in line
this one’s a haiku

Translated
(Inspired by Gareth Jones–Roberts’ painting “Egrets in Morning Light”)

on the edge of space
two egrets in morning light
woken from a dream

I recently came across a poem I had written a while ago, but never posted it. A photograph of cranes flying in a snowstorm inspired this Japanese Haiku.

Red-crowned cranes in Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. Photograph by Vincent Munier. Click on image to enlarge it.

Three Japanese cranes
Soar above trees in snowstorm
Grace under pressure

Tanka on the Japanese art of kintsugi

I discovered other aspects of Japanese culture, which inspired tanka poems. Click on the titles below for more information and images.

The first is about kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer thereby making it appear more beautiful than the original. Robert Yellin had tweeted an image of a repaired bowl to show this art, which is how I discovered it.

kintsugi tanka

kintsukuroi
turning obstacles into
opportunities

life’s lessons build character
what was broken is now whole

The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs selected Robert to introduce Japanese craftsmen to the world in a special documentary, Takumi: Japan’s artisan tradition. Because of his expertise, Robert became a cultural ambassador. His film inspired people from all over the world to visit the country, and helped boost Japanese tourism.

How Robert ended up in Japan is revealed in the documentary film, Jerry’s Last Mission, about his father, Jerry Yellin, who was the last WWII fighter pilot, an author, and proponent of TM for veterans with PTSD.

Tanka on the Japanese martial art of Aikido

On a visit to see my son in California, I wrote this tanka after watching his Aikido teacher demonstrate how to defend oneself from attack. She stood in one spot and effortlessly deflected the repeated charges from her students. It was mesmerizing! It took me a while to process what I had seen before writing the poem. I had emailed it to my son to read to her on her birthday. A volunteer at the dojo found the poem and posted it with a photo of a leaning tree as a screensaver on the office computer. It’s beautiful. Click the title and scroll down to see it.

My Son’s Sensei

Rooted to the ground
She repels her attackers
Flowing, not moving.

In storms, trees bear great burdens
Bending, not breaking.

Two tree tanka

Speaking of trees, this tanka is from the perspective of a willow tree. Click the title to see a photo of a special one, and links to audio clips of me reading the poem on different media platforms.

Willow Tree
An Overflowing Fountain of Green

Willow Tree Whispers
People say … Weeping Willow
But I’m not crying

Just bowing down … to the Earth
Kissing the ground … with my leaves

Another tree tanka resulted when I saw the willow that inspired the previous poem, and the honey locust next to it, intertwined on top! They were on each side of the entrance to the place I was living in at the time.

Friendship

Trees like to hold hands
Bending branches to link leaves
They forge deep friendships

Swaying with the wind—they dance
Under the moonlight—romance

A two-haiku relationship poem

When it comes to a committed relationship, this two-haiku poem turned out to be prophetically true.

COMMITTED

when the tide rolls in
bows of boats bump each other
tethered to the dock

with our ups and downs
we remain tied together
solid as a rock

© Ken Chawkin

See more haiku and tanka archived on The Uncarved Blog.

Suggested Reading

Jane Hirshfield’s 29-page essay about the life and poetry of Matsuo Bashō—recognized as a master of concise, compelling Japanese haiku—is worth reading. The Heart of Haiku was named “Best Kindle Single of 2011.” It was the first Kindle I ever bought, and described it in a post, Haiku on The Heart of Haiku, with links to interviews and more.

Author and translator Harold Stewart‘s essay On Haiku and Haiga in A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings, was very edifying.

This classic was recommended to me: Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi. I see it’s been updated and illustrated by Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi: The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty.

Although not Japanese, Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan was also worth reading. A 2nd Edition is now available. I reference the Taoist concept of the uncarved block explaining How The Uncarved Blog got its name.

A tanka remembering Sali and her gift to me on the one-year anniversary of her passing

October 1, 2017

During difficult times, and Sali’s final days, we were helped by the kind staff from Hospice Compassus. After Sali passed, they continued to offer me support with their bereavement program throughout the year. On the one-year anniversary of her death they sent me a letter and a brochure, Journey Through Grief: Looking back at your first year. They encourage “Grief journaling and all forms of writing as an important and helpful tool for healing.” They offered helping prompts to those grieving to get started with these two Reflective Questions.

As you look back at the past twelve months:

1. When thinking about the life of the person that you’ve lost to death, what — of themselves — have they given you to help you move through the rest of your life?

2. During your walk through grief, what have you learned about yourself that will assist you in moving forward?

I had been writing in a journal all along, and posted some entries and many poems. After reading these questions I was moved to write a haiku, then extended it to this tanka. I will give more thought to these questions and write something later, but wanted to post this tonight to mark the one-year anniversary of Sali’s passing.

Tanka for Sali
A remembrance of you and your gift to me

What you did for me
Was draw Love out of my heart
And into our lives

It completely transformed me
To become a better man

Oct 1, 2017
One year after Sali’s passing
© Ken Chawkin
Fairfield, Iowa

This entry, 9 months after her passing, reviews our relationship and what it meant: For Us—a tanka honoring Sali and what we shared. I also updated the entry Celebrating the Glorious Life of Sally Monroe Peden, which contains newer descriptions about Sali by friends who spoke at her Memorial Service. There are many beautiful tributes there, and now, halfway down, you’ll see today’s date, October 1, 2017, with new entries from David and Rhoda Orme-Johnson, Kate Ross, and later Rannie Boes.

This new post, added November 12, 2017, is relevant: 1st anniversary of my India trip to spread Sali’s ashes on the Narmada River, visit Bijouri campus and Maharishi Vedic Pandits at the Brahmasthan.

Added June 28, 2019: Poem for Sali—An Undying Love—heals the heart.

Growth, a spontaneous haiku/tanka @kenchawkin

April 11, 2017

Here’s a little poem that came about as I was waking up on a Saturday morning, April 1, 2017. Around 7:15 a.m. CT, I reached for my journal and started writing it down. It took about 3 minutes. I had been thinking about life and how we all go through a series of lessons, a process of self-realization, whether we know it or not, and this poem started forming itself in my mind, first as a haiku, and then extended to a tanka.

Growth
A spontaneous haiku/tanka

Whatever happens
to and by you is also
happening for you

Everything is a lesson
for you to learn and grow from

© Ken Chawkin

Related: Growth Haiku written by @kenchawkin and his son Nathanael Chawkin @integralsensei.

Tanka For Sali Upholding Her Wonderful Nature

April 5, 2015

Tanka For Sali Upholding Her Wonderful Nature
Her essence shines through the Dementia!

Through all the Changes
Your Nature Remains the Same
Sweet, Joyful, Loving

Radiating Sallyness
Constant as the Northern Star

© Ken Chawkin
Parkview Care Center
April 4, 2015, 5:40pm
Fairfield, Iowa, USA

See Sally’s Smile (Haiku for Nurse Dan) and Sali’s Nature

a new tanka: Dementia Blues

December 12, 2013

Dementia Blues
A tanka written after a holiday party at Parkview

Brain cell by brain cell
You’re disappearing from me
I’m alone again

How hard it must be for you
Disappearing from yourself

© Ken Chawkin
December 8, 2013
Fairfield, Iowa, USA

Related: An Unwanted Guest

The Curse of Dementia: On watching a loved one diminish before your eyes, poem by Ken Chawkin

Sitting with Sally: 5-haiku poem

Rage Against the Disease

a writing tanka on writing tanka by ken chawkin

September 8, 2013

writing tanka
a writing tanka on writing tanka

stare at the blank page
intimidating or what
now just start writing

no matter what you put down
it will all come back to you

© Ken Chawkin
Fairfield, Iowa, USA
September 7, 2013

WRITING TANKA—Preparing to Write

Writing—a poem on the writing process

Haiku On The Nature of Haiku

Fishing For Fallen Light: A Tanka inspired by David Lynch and Pablo Neruda

July 28, 2013

I thought of David Lynch and his book, Catching the Big Fish, when I read a particular poem by Pablo Neruda in The Sea and the Bells. Both deal with the search for illumination; finding and clarifying a creative idea.

In this video David answers a question about his creative process, describing where ideas come from and how they coalesce into a finished product: David Lynch: ‘Ideas Are Like Fish.’ He says ideas are like fish and the deeper you go the more powerful, abstract and beautiful they are. Your desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook. When you catch one, others get attracted to it. Lynch sometimes gets a part of an idea and others come along. He writes them down. He advises that you have to stay true to the initial idea as it begins to form, even in ways you may not have anticipated, until it all comes together and you get it right. He describes how a script for a film can come about in this way.

The last line-stanza in Neruda’s poem uses the same idea, described here as sitting on the rim of a well of darkness fishing for fallen light.

Talk about transcending and patiently waiting to catch the big fish, an idea that will illuminate the mind and inform a work of art!

Here is that poem by Pablo Neruda in The Sea and the Bells (pp. 82/83):

Si cada día
dentro de cada noche,
hay un pozo
donde la claridad está encerrada.

Hay que sentarse a la orilla
del pozo de la sombra
y pescar luz caída
con paciencia.

If each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.

We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
with patience.

Here is my tanka inspired by David Lynch and Pablo Neruda:

Fishing For Fallen Light

Catching the big fish
will illuminate the mind
and inform the work

Look within to find the light
ideas are swimming there

More information on David Lynch and his book:

This audio book review provides a clear synopsis of David’s book and the ideas expressed in it. See Inspiring excerpts – David Lynch: Catching the Big Fish – Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, which lists quotes by topic posted on StillnessSpeaks.com. You can listen to Catching the Big Fish (FULL AUDIOBOOK) on YouTube. Excerpts by topic can be found on YouTube, for example, the notion of suffering to create.

David Lynch says meditation has allowed him to remove stress and access deeper more beautiful ideas he falls in love with and translates into film, painting, sculpture or music. In this talk filmmaker David Lynch describes his experience of the creative process in the light of his practice of Transcendental Meditation at the Majestic Theater in Boston. He says, “It’s a great thing for the filmmaker.”

See Inspiring excerpts – David Lynch: Catching the Big Fish – Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.

kintsugi: japanese pottery inspires poetry

April 11, 2013

This poem was inspired by a tweet from @RobertYellin The art of making broken pottery more beautiful, kintsugi. pic.twitter.com/Q1ZLWzWQs

I replied @kenchawkin Wow! What a metaphor for turning obstacles into opportunities. Life’s lessons build character.

I thought about it and made it into a haiku, then a tanka, and sent it as another reply to his tweet.

I also thought it was appropriate for a piece of Japanese pottery to have inspired a poem in one of the forms of Japanese poetry. I don’t speak Japanese but am reading kintsukuroi as having five syllables.

Here is a link to Wikipedia explaining kintsugi or kintsukuroi. Read the explanation under the picture of the piece of pottery, then the poem.

kintsugi

kintsugi tanka

kintsukuroi
turning obstacles into
opportunities

life’s lessons build character
what was broken is now whole

Robert Yellin was featured on this blog before. See Takumi is not ‘lost in translation’ in this beautiful film about Japan’s diverse artisan tradition.

Speaking of cracked things, Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything—how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

Same for this Canadian writer, but from a different perspective: Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within.

Another post on this theme: William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken.

I later put this related post together: Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka.

Fairfield honors 2011 CNN Hero of the Year Robin Lim at Sondheim Theater for the Performing Arts

March 2, 2013

When Robin Lim returned home to Fairfield for a hero’s welcome she was honored by the City of Fairfield with a proclamation given to her by Mayor Ed Malloy. Robin also shared some birthing stories with us. One of them was very funny of a Russian couple who wanted to have a home birth, an orgasmic birth. This video begins with several video clips about Robin and her CNN introduction, presentation and acceptance speeches.

Founded in 1995, Bumi Sehat is a non-profit, village-based organization that runs two by-donation community health centers in Bali and Aceh, Indonesia. They provide over 17,000 health consultations for both children and adults per year. Midwifery services to ensure gentle births is at the heart of Bumi Sehat and our clinics welcome approximately 600 new babies into the world each year.

Their mission is to reduce maternal and child morbidity and mortality and to support the health and wise development of communities. Toward this goal, we provide general health services, emergency care, prenatal, postpartum, birth services and breastfeeding support, in addition to education and environmental programs. Yayasan Bumi Sehat is devoted to working in partnership with people to improve quality of life and to improve peace.

For more information, visit Robin Lim’s websites: BumiSehatBali.org, and WisdomBirth.org, still under construction.

See Fairfield Ledger: CNN Hero Robin Lim visiting Fairfield, and early news coverage for Robin Lim is the 2011 CNN Hero Of The Year. While in Fairfield Robin Lim spoke on Becoming a Hero at the Maharishi School for the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield, Iowa on November 14, 2012, and on Finding the Hero Inside Yourself at the Fairfield High School.

See this Tanka for Ibu Robin Lim, CNN Hero of the Year.

Tanka for Ibu Robin Lim, CNN Hero of the Year

March 1, 2013

Tanka for Robin Lim
2011 CNN Hero Robin Lim*

Holding out her hands
At the door between both worlds
She welcomes new souls

Ibu Robin is her name
Catching babies is her game

*Midwife is her claim to fame

See Fairfield Ledger: CNN Hero Robin Lim visiting Fairfield, and early news coverage for Robin Lim is the 2011 CNN Hero Of The Year.

See these videos: Fairfield honors 2011 CNN Hero of the Year Robin Lim at Sondheim Theater for the Performing Arts. And these school presentations: CNN Hero of the Year for 2011, Robin Lim, speaks on Becoming a Hero at the Maharishi School for the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield, Iowa on November 14, 2012. Robin Lim on Finding the Hero Inside Yourself at the Fairfield High School. (better sound quality)

For more information, visit Robin Lim’s websites: BumiSehatBali.org, and WisdomBirth.org, still under construction.


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