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.



  1. Thank you for posting this. It clarifies the different definitions and tags and also, for me, fills in some of the gaps regarding events of last year.

    If I may add my own coin-of-small-denomination's worth ...

    When he came to the UK, I took the opportunity to ask Enta Kusakabe in some detail about gogyohka. As a newcomer to short-form poetry myself, and at a time when I was still rather intimidated by what I'd been reading about tanka, I welcomed the idea of gogyohka - unburdened by rules and centuries of tradition. Moreover, as if writing were not difficult enough already, I can still get myself into a tangle with form, rules, definitions, hashtags, and so on. But, to all such questions of definition, Enta repeatedly said, simply but firmly: "Your gogyohka is your gogyohka."

    By this, I took him to mean that, other than a nominal structure of five lines, the writer was free to develop their poetry in whatever style be most natural to them. First and foremost, it seemed to me, Enta wants people to write. To write their lives. And thereby to begin to find their own identity as writers - and, indeed, as people - by being allowed to discover their own subject matter, poetic style and individual voice, within the simplest of frameworks.

    Regarding hashtags on Twitter:
    It must have happened when I was away and out of Twitter range for a week but on return I gathered that there had been some kind of problem with the gogyohka tag, and that we should not be using it. Your piece, above, sheds light on this for me. But what struck me, at our meeting, was that Enta seemed wonderfully unprecious about gogyohka. It was clear to me that he was of a mind to let it make its own way in the world; that he would be interested in its progress but would not seek to control it.

    Thus, I was surprised at the trademarking issue. However, I had been aware of increasing acrimony between Enta Kusakabe and Aizu Taro, as expressed in forum posts at Gogyohka Junction. Perhaps it was this split that forced Enta's hand. And perhaps, like other aspects of gogyohka/tanka, it is of more significance within Japan than outside it.

    I am still not absolutely clear about the legal situation surrounding gogyohka. I haven't been active at Gogyohka Junction for some time now and, to be honest, it looks as though tumbleweed is blowing through it. I myself am now not as intimidated by tanka as I was then, as I understand it more, thanks to your writing and that of Mr Garrison; but I would be sad if gogyohka were to fade away after that brief online flourishing.

  2. This is very interesting stuff. I can confirm that #5lines is already being used for western style poetry. The problem with twitter is that people will inevitably stumble upon hashtags without knowing their full meaning. Someone new to micropoetry will unknowingly see a tanka poem that is just tagged with #5lines – and will label their next micropoem with the tag without ever learning about Tanka. I’ve started to document all micropoetry hash tags that I come accross. You might find this interesting…



  3. I have just read these discussion. I'll publish the difference between gogyohka and gogyohshi by "Declaration of gogyohshi" which I published last May. Please ask me any questions. I'll answer as much as possible.

    What is Gogyohshi?

    by Taro Aizu

    Gogyohshi is a poem written in five lines. Writing a poem in five lines is its only rule. The content of gogyohshi is free, its themes are chosen by the poet. There are other five-line poetries in the world, for example, gogyohka,tanka, cinquain, and limerick. These poetries have certain rules such as number of permitted syllables, line lengths, and rhyme. Gogyohshi has no such rules.
    It is the freest form of five-line poetry in the world. But gogyohshi doesn't permit to be written in 4 or 6 lines, though gogyohka
    occasionally permits this. Gogyohshi is written only in five lines. If the poem is written in four lines, we should call "Yongyohshi"meaning a poem written in four lines. If the poem is written in six lines, you should call it
    "Rokugyohshi" meaning a poem written in six lines. As for a title, some Japanese poets add it to gogyohshi and others don't. I will
    always add a title to my Japanese and English gogyohshi because I can't tell one gogyohshi from the other. If I add it to my many gogyohshi, I will be able to tell them apart. I will write a short title in all capital letters so that readers don't misunderstand the title as one line of 6 lines poetry. Gogyohshi is for me 5 lines poetry with a short title. But it isn't the same as cinquain because it has no
    syllabic restraints unlike cinquain.

    While Gogyohka is trademarked in Japan, gogyohshi is not so. Because gogyohshi doesn't belong to any special person but to everyone. Most Japanese gogyohka poets belong to gogyohka groups and follow the leaders of such groups. Most gogyohshi poets do not belong to any group and write as they please. In conclusion, among world five-line poetries, gogyohshi is closest to gogyohka in form. The primary differences between them lie in gogyohshi's adherence to the rule of 5-line. Adding a title to them depends on the poet. A gogyohshi poet has no rule except writing a poem in five lines. This is a Declaration of Gogyohshi.

  4. I'm sorry to have chosen, "Anonymous" as my name. It is me, "Taro Aizu". I have just gotten Google account.

  5. Modern English tanka is too different from Japanese tanka. Most Japanese readers will be very confused if they know it is written in five lines and free syllables. Most Japanese call just five lines poems with 57577 syllables
    "tanka". They will call five lines without 57577 syllables " five lines poem". I think a formal tanka is the genuine tanka but an informal tanka isn't a genuine tanka but five lines poem. It's true that Japanese tanka is the mother of the informal tanka but they are too different from each other. An Informal tanka is independent from not only Japanese tanka but English formal tanka because it has not 57577 syllables. Now an informal tanka should have a new name because it has an independent feature from tanka like a son has an independent personality from the mother and his own name.

  6. Free form tanka, with a seasonally addressed hokku-like tercet, followed by a personal response to this in lines 4/5. Surely, simply stated, this is the essence of the tradition stemming from original waka (uta)? I speak from an English language perspective where the sound-bites of Japanese do not equate with our syllables as such.

  7. Well, no, it's not the essence of the uta tradition at all. The waka took many different forms. What you describe is a modern English-language convention to write a haiku+2 lines of subjective reaction and think that defines tanka. It doesn't. It is 'a' way to write tanka, and therefore as legitimate as any other internal structure, but to define tanka so narrowly is to ignore the vast scope of current practice and history of the tanka. I strongly recommend you read my article: Tanka Structure: The 'Jo' or 'Preface' in the upcoming Atlas Poetica 13. It publishes November 15.

    The structure you are describing as 'hokku-like' is the 'jo' ('preface'). The jo of the archaic period was composed of 1-2 lines with imagistic content, followed by the body of 3-4 lines. As early as the Man'yoshu, the jo had evolved dramatically to comprise anywhere from 1-4 lines, to have 1 or 2 jo of various line lengths, and to even move the jo from its traditional position at the head of the poem to other locations. I recommend reading the The Waka Anthology, Vol. 1, Edwin Cranston, ed and trans, for further information about early waka.


  8. "What you describe is a modern English-language convention to write a haiku+2 lines of subjective reaction and think that defines tanka." - Keibooks

    Yes, with the exception of your last assertion (which is simply untrue - read my comment with more care). I believe that the formal structure is, in essence, a proto-hokku capped by a personal response. Eventually leading to renga along a bumpy timeline.

    Bear in mind that this is from a western English language perspective. It being futile to dream of simulating, authentically, Nippon cultural methods. Particularly when considering language and its musicality and deep historical innuendos. That is not to say we do not benefit from the study of Japanese aesthetics. Far from it.

    Here is the classical model for it. . .

    Eightfold rising clouds
    Build an eightfold fence
    An eightfold Izumo fence
    Wherein to keep my bride -
    Oh! splendid eightfold fence.

    - Susanoo (attributed), Kojiki, 712 AD

    How do you respond?

  9. First, this poem predates haiku by a thousand years, so it can't be a haiku+2. Second, it conforms exactly to the oldest model of jo + body + refrain. This is how the earliest tanka were written: L1-2 - preface, L3-4 - main topic, L5, - the refrain.

    By the Man'yoshu, this archaic form was a minority. Poems were commonly structured 5-7 / 5-7-7 (jo+katauta). Note the caesura at the end of L2. By the time of the Kokinwakashu, the form of 5-7-5 / 7-7 was also popular (caesura at the end of L3) -- which is what eventually led to renga. However, even in the Man'yo era and the Kokin era, multiple structures were used, such as a rush of five lines down or 5-7-5-7 / 7 plus many others. There's even the double jo in which you have two jo followed by the body, with or without use of a swing line, etc. They even moved the jo to different locations in the poem, such as the last lines! The only thing they didn't do was split the jo. A split jo is a modern innovation.

    You are projecting a modern concept (haiku+2) back onto the archaic form, and ignoring the actual structures of the preface and refrain that were characteristic of the archaic poems. Japanese prosody is based on alternating long and short lines, with a final long line. Lines varied from 3-8 sound units, but by the Man'yo era had standardized on lines of 5 and 7 sound units. The choka was built of 5-7 pairs at whatever length was desired, and ended with a line of 7. The absolute smallest unit that can be built with this structure is 5-7-5-7-7 -- so we find the 'envoys' appended to the end of choka in this form. The final line was often a refrain or repetition -- remember that the oldest tanka were sung. The song-nature of the 'Izumo' poem is vary obvious.

    Many possibilities were permitted during the Man'yo era, but the compression of meaning and utterance that characterize tanka came into being during this time. As a consequence, the refrain and/or repetition dropped out of common usage.

    Again, I refer you to the Waka Anthology Vol 1 for a discussion of Nara period waka, their structures, origins, and evolutions.


  10. I've been practicing gogyohka for the last few months... i'm even thinkin of publishing it.. now as you've written i think i can't use the word gogyohka due to trademark stuff... please enlighten...