Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pirate, Caesar, and a Mouse Named Tom

Years ago I had a feline companion named Pirate. He was a stray I took in. He was an excellent hunter who would mouse on command. Very intelligent cat; understand English, sometimes complied with instructions like, "Get your tail out of the way" and, "Go to the foot of the bed" when I didn't want him sleeping wrapped around my face. I named him 'Pirate' when the first night he lived with me he hove along side, boarded my plate, and stood there licking the sauce off of my spaghetti.

Anyhow, some years later, we acquired an orange marmalade tom about six months old whom we promptly named 'Caesar' because he walked in like he owned the place. Pirate mostly ignored him and let him think he was important. One day, not long after he had arrived, I was sitting in the living room when a mouse ran across the hearth and darted behind a potted plant. Pirate immediately hunkered down and started to crawl across the floor on his belly. I said, "Pirate, wait." So he settled down right where he was, watching intently. He became one with the floor—great ninja cat trick. None of the other living creatures in the room saw him.

Caesar eventually noticed the mouse when it ran out the other side of the potted plant and pounced. He missed and the mouse scurried behind plant. He came out the other side. Caesar noticed, pounced and missed. Mouse ran behind plant and out the other side. Another miss by Caesar. Mouse started doing this on purpose, and got Caesar all riled up just like a cartoon cat so he was perfectly out of sync. When he pounced on one side, the mouse was on the other side. When he pounced on the other side, the mouse was back on the first side. Caesar eventually became so frustrated he sat on his haunches looking vexed.

Whereupon the mouse came out from behind the plant, stood on his hind feet, and started wagging his whiskers and waving his paws at him. It was a perfect field mouse performance of "Nyah nyah nyah." Poor Caesar, mocked by a mouse! He didn't try to pounce this time. He knew he couldn't get it. He sat there in abject humiliation. I mean, really. Here was a creature about the size of a teaspoon who couldn't have weighed more than a few grams harassing a creature about a 600x larger than himself!

At that point I leaned down and whispered, "Okay, Pirate. Go get him." Ziiiiiip! Black lightning streaked across the floor and caught the mouse by the scruff of the neck. He trotted over to me and presented the captive. The mouse hung paralyzed in his grip with the "HOLY SHIT WHERE DID THE CAT COME FROM?" look on his face. I told the mouse, "Pride goeth before a fall."

I fetched a plastic bowl, held it in front of Pirate and said, "Drop it." He plopped the mouse into the container. I took the mouse outside and set him free, unharmed.

You just can't let the cat eat Tom from the Tom & Jerry Show.

Tom never came back in the house, and I'm sure he never taunted any more kittens after that.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

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

For the last two years, interest in gogyohka and gogyoshi has been increasing among tanka poets and writers of micropoetry. I've attempt to measure this interest with, but failed.

#Gogyohka on Twitter, with 15,000 uses, exceeds #tanka with 13,000 uses. #Gogyoshi is hardly used, with just 19 uses, according to Strangely, these figures are way down from last year when I did the same searches in May. Then the 'all time' number of #gogyohka was 33,000 and #tanka was 25,000. This severely undermines the credibility of -- if 'all time' means all time, the figure should rise over time, not shrink. Then again, makes references to 'three years' worth of data, which is hardly 'all time,' is it? If only three years are searched, then it would not be surprising that each term might rise or fall depending on the three year period examined. But to call a measly three years' worth of data 'all time' is severely misleading. As a consequence, I cannot offer any hard data on the incidence of tanka, gogyohka, and gogyoshi in social media.

Last year saw a peak of interest as tanka and other poets discovered gogyohka and it was readily adopted. Many tanka poets experimented with gogyohka and found it freeing. Specifically, they felt that gogyohka freed them from the restraints of tanka. These restraints were largely imaginary, but widely perceived. It was thought that tanka only permitted certain kinds of subject matter and certain kinds of treatments; these rules did not apply to gogyohka. In actuality, tanka is as diverse in subject matter and treatment as gogyohka, as an examination of the several volumes of Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka will show. Certainly there was a time in tanka during the late 20th century and early 21st century where conventions ruled tanka publication, but the rise of Modern English Tanka and various other small presses and their publications shattered those boundaries. Today the only journal insisting on a restrictive definition of tanka is not even a tanka journal, but a micropoetry journal, Simply Haiku. SH has announced that it will only publish tanka written in a s/l/s/l/l format. No tanka journal has such a restrictive editorial policy.

In addition to tanka poets, many other poets adopted gogyohka. Thus gogyohka garnered a larger share of the social media space than tanka did. Many of the offerings were of an amateur caliber that showed no familiarity with previous gogyohka publications. Enta Kusakabe, the originator of gogyohka in Japan, has translated an anthology into English named simply, Gogyohka. A perusal of this text shows that the aesthetics are very similar to tanka aesthetics. The difference between tanka and gogyohka in Japanese is that the former are written in sanjuichi form, a pattern of syllables of 5/7/5/7/7. Gogyohka are not. 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.

Last year Enta Kusakabe trademarked the word 'gogyohka' in Japan, causing a flap in the English-language micropoetry community. Atlas Poetica adopted the public domain, non-trademarked term 'gogyoshi' in order to avoid violating Enta's trademark, and some other poets have as well. Most poets in the West appeared to be of the opinion that 'gogyohka' was not trademarkable, and continued using it for their works regardless of any authority Enta attempted to exercise over the term or items published under its rubric. Enta said he did not intend to control the term, and that poets were welcome to use it, yet he filed suit in Japan against a gogyohka contest sponsored by a city in Japan. Most poets outside of Japan are unaware of these developments, and the term 'gogyohka' continues in regular usage.

The alternate term 'gogyoshi' was coined by Aizu Taro of Japan, a former gogyohka poet who has split from Enta Kusakabe. Aizu defines 'gogyoshi' as simply 'five line poem' with no requirements regarding syllables or content, and expressly welcomes assimilation of Western and Eastern forms. Thus, although he has not gone so far as to say say, it appears that Western forms such as limerick and cinquain can be encompassed under the umbrella of 'gogyoshi.' Aizu has explicitly addressed tanka, although it is not entirely clear what his vision is. That tanka is a subset of gogyoshi? He has stressed the absolute freedom of gogyoshi, so he does not regard tanka and gogyoshi as being the same thing. Since the requirements of tanka include five poetic phrases to replicate the core feature of tanka in Japanese, tanka cannot be any five lines, but must have an internal structure compatible with the Japanese original. There is no such requirement for gogyoshi. On the other hand, although gogyoshi expressly permits any subject matter and treatment, an examination of gogyoshi as it is actually published shows a lyric element and the application of Japanese aesthetics. Nonetheless, given the espoused view of literary freedom, it is reasonable to accept that five line poems not displaying the usage of Japanese aesthetics would qualify as gogyoshi.

Due to the proliferation of #hashtags on Twitter, I invented and advocated the use of the term #5lines to identify five line poetry. So far it has been applied to waka, tanka, kyoka, gogyohka, and gogyoshi, but I envision it encompassing Western five line forms as well, such as the limerick, cinquain, and free verse. My recommended use is #5lines plus one other #hashtag specifying exactly what it is, eg, #5lines #tanka, or #5lines #kyoka, etc. This will reduce clutter in the Twitspace. Too many #hashtags severely reduces the number of characters available for the poem. #5lines is a convenient shorthand for any type of five line poem. However, it is not the same as gogyoshi. At least, not yet. Although Aizu embraces a world view of five line poetry, it has not yet come to fruition.