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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Waka Challenge Day 2: A waka, a question, and an answer

Our goal is to post at least one waka a day from April 9 through May 9 in our second annual Waka Fest. Today we have not only a waka, but a question, and an answer.

The waka:

I awoke early
heady with grandiose plans
but the fog rolled in
I couldn't see anything
but what was holding me back

By Beth Lowell

The question:

Hi Janet,

I read about the Waka Challenge and the sample waka by Meiji Emperor. Based on your description of waka being 5 lines with a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7, I don't see how the Emperor's waka fits that criteria. Is there something missing?

Fran in NJ

And an answer from Contributing Editor Beth Lowell:

Dear Fran,

The 5/7/5/7/7 syllabic count actually is a western notion. Much like the 5/7/5 syllabic count established for western writers of haiku, it is intended as a means of helping western writers evoke a Japanese feeling. The western and Japanese cultures and languages are so vastly different that it's really impossible to replicate Japanese poetry in English - the syllabic structure, you might say, works like training wheels for English speaking writers. Two articles that the Reiki Digest published last year explore this further: Waka Rules!, and Following the Waka into Japanese History.

Your question piqued my interest further, though, Fran, and I wanted to find out just who imposed the 5/7/5/7/7 rule. (You'll note in both articles mentioned above that many publishers accept Tanka, the modern day version of the Waka, that do not adhere strictly to the rules - we are one of them.)

I haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet, but while researching I did come across this very inspiring article in which Beverley George, an Australian poet who has been writing Tanka for over ten years, talks more about the differences in structure between the Japanese and western forms.

Thanks, Fran - and however you choose to write your waka, we hope you'll share it here!

Beth Lowell


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