Seeking Serenity, #Gogyohka or #Modern #Tanka

Whew! What a busy week it’s been. I’ve struggled to find time to work on my new poetry book amid a series of events which interfered in my time, every day. Between a four-hour power outage in my neighborhood, and the daily mess and noise from a new-build next door, I’m struggling for time to work on my book. Add a day of grocery shopping to prepare for the Coronavirus scare sweeping the world, and I’ll find myself working double-time this weekend to catch up.

This week it was Poet’s choice. Here’s what I came up with!

The greening of spring in my neighborhood

There’s always a ray of sunshine for me in the moments that give rise to inspiration. Such are the ways of the muse. She appears when you least expect her presence, sharing a precious moment of stillness.

Seeking Serenity, #Gogyohka

psychic detachment
Karma transcended
peaceful consciousness

©2020 Colleen M. Chesebro

I’ve written this Gogyohka in the s/l/s/l/l (short/long/short/long/long) syllable count of a modern Tanka in English, which differs from the traditional 5/7/5/7/7 count. Most poetic journals and literary contests, etc. will call this form the Tanka in English.

Many poets believed the Gogyohka to be more freeing than falling under the demands of a traditionally written Tanka. That’s not the case. The form still dictates the structure of short form poetry, as you don’t use sentences, rhyming, or punctuation. Each line is spoken in a breath, limiting the length of your phrases even though the Gogyohka claims no restraint on words or syllables.

From what my research has revealed, Tanka in English poets have abandoned the syllable counts because of differences between the Japanese and English languages, Tanka in English are functionally the same as Gogyohka in English.

We experienced the same changes in Haiku and Senryu. It appears Tanka/Gogyohka have experienced the same reduction in syllable count.

M. Key of Kujaku Poetry & Ships shares:

Gogyohka are short five line poems, which may or may not be end-stopped; that detail is not clear in Gogyohka. Since tanka in English abandoned syllable counting due to differences between the Japanese and English languages, tanka in English are functionally the same as gogyohka in English. The difference is of great importance in Japanese, but of no significance in English.

Tanka in English fulfill the definition given for Gogyohka. On the other hand, so do kyoka, waka, Japanese tanka, limericks, cinquains, and other five line forms, yet it is clear that Gogyohka does not embrace these as part of its definition and view.

The assumption of a lyric Japanese aesthetic is built into the genre without being specified. Thus, we can define five line poems lacking in a Japanese or at least a lyric presentation as not meeting the operational definition of Gogyohka, even if they meet the technical definition.

A Few Remarks on Tanka, Gogyoyhka, Gogyoshi, and 5Lines

So what does this mean for our challenge? Just like we did for the Haiku and Senryu forms, I’ll offer the traditional and modern forms for the Tanka.

Think of the traditional Tanka as the 5/7/5/7/7 and the Gogyohka, the modern Tanka in five lines: s/l/s/l/l.

Questions? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Friday, poetic friends. I’m done writing for the day!

27 thoughts on “Seeking Serenity, #Gogyohka or #Modern #Tanka

  1. I like your Gogyohka. I could use a little Zen at the end of a frustrating week of curriculum development. Could you say a little more about what these notations stand for: s/l/s/l/l?


        1. The idea is to not stick to the 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count. If you grab my poem and copy into the How Many Syllables site you’ll see my syllable count doesn’t match the traditional form. ❤️


  2. A very calming verse Colleen, I like it. Thank you for the s/l explanation, my brain was struggling, until you said short / long 💜


    1. It’s scary, Robbie. I have asthma, which makes it easy for me to get sick. We’ve stocked up so now I can finish my poetry book. We’ve got a ball game scheduled for Tuesday but it looks like it will rain so that will take care of that issue. Stay safe. ❤


      1. I am also worried because we live in Africa and there are a lot of people with HIV and TB here which will make it spread quicker. Michael also has asthma. Stay safe.


        1. Oh, Robbie. I worry for all of us. America does not even have enough tests for our population. I fear this virus will bring us to our knees. I’m holding you all in my heart and praying for our safety. Special hugs to Michael. He’s a special boy. ❤


  3. I like this definition – but the “breaths” seem short unless we’re taking each line as meditative. Is it just the case that you go for something very brief, like a breath in a more spiritual sense?


    1. It’s a breath to emphasize the brevity of the Japanese poetic form. It’s not free style poetry like everyone is looking for. It’s five brief lines of thought. The Haibun is more favorable as the prose portion is free-style and the Haiku is brief. Technically, the Gogyohka is a Japanese Tanka less in syllables to the Tanka in English.


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