October, 2013

A Journal for Linking Poets  


Jane & Werner Reichhold



Jane & Werner Reichhold

The community of writers who share the inspiration of Japanese poetry forms has come to a new plateau of experience and understanding. Again we are finding that the Japanese terms for what we are writing are no longer adequate because our experimentations are pushing us farther and farther from the original forms.

We have already seen that English-language haiku have less and less in common with the traditional ideas and precepts of Japanese haiku / hokku / haikai. We keep fiddling with words to be as exact and accurate as we can in naming our works. To the initiated it feels, at some level, wrong to call what we write as “haiku” because so much has changed over the last hundred years. The differences in language sounds has deprived us of the comfort of 5-7-5- sound unit count, the pace and race of the modern age in which we live is very far from the simple life of the Japanese masters and as poets we must keep our fingers on the pulse points of ourselves and those around us. We cannot be authentic poets if we only allow ourselves to imitate the past and remain within its constraints.

Even the Japanese terms fail us as we learn about the difference between Shiki’s term “haiku” and the hokku of the renga. We now see that in simplifying the haikai – verses within a renga and  hokku – the term for the additional gravity of the very first verse into one term he has deprived us of a method of separating our more profound hokku-like verses from the haikai.

In our English ignorance we have tried to show this age-old difference by misnaming the haikai as senryu which is not even an accepted poetry form in Japan! Yes there is a small group of Japanese who delight and continue to write these game-like little poems, but they have clear rules (no season word and often not signed) to designate that what they are playing with is not a haiku. Because early in our adoption of haiku we stripped out the season words (too constrictive, too much to learn which word was for which season were our reasons) we cannot distinguish an English-language senryu from an EL haiku.

We also ran into the problem of naming forms when the haibun – prose with a haiku, evolved into prose with tanka. Though the Japanese have written travel journals and stories (Travels of a Gossamer Lady; The Tale of Genji) in which they combined prose with tanka, there was (as far as I have heard) no Japanese word for prose plus tanka. Thus we are stuck with nonsense terms like “tanka prose” or “tanbun” which translated is short composition and has nothing to do with tanka. Prose with tanka would make more sense but it does not roll off the tongue with any delight.

Now in the past year we have learned about the writers from New Zealand and Australia who have created a new form in which they combine elements from renga with haibun writing. What to call the new baby? Haibun renga may work this year, but what do we call the poem when the haiku are replaced with tanka?

Even that problem seems simple when one sees writers combining tanka and haiku, in sequences or with prose or, more exciting yet! they now add artwork, photos and music. What are you going to call those works? In case you think I am making this all up, you can look inside the book Film of Words to see that already in 2008 this combination was being explored with great aplomb.

At present, the Japanese writing community is very careful to keep separated their two major poetry forms – tanka and haiku.

A few years ago, in preparation for an anniversary issue of The Tanka Journal I was asked for a list of the books I had written in the years for which this celebration was being held. Innocent that I am, I sent the titles of all my books in that time span. To my surprise, then my list was published it was stripped of all the haiku books! Aya Yuhki and I are good friends so we never spoke of this. However it showed me how she was forced to conceal my haiku activities from the tanka writers.

In the summer of 2013 plans have been revealed to combine haiku writers and tanka writers into a new union or society called “United Haiku and Tanka Society.” I cringe to think of how this will be seen by the Japanese who go to such lengths to keep the two forms pure and separated to the extent that if one is a tanka poet one does not stoop to write haiku and haiku writers are never accepted as tanka poets also. As admirable as it seems to us, to be writers in both forms in English, it is already not enough. The title, as it stands, does not seem to include the forms of haibun, haiga. Only a sub-item in the explanation for this new society adds these forms. It does not even seem to consider renga, which are also written by this proposed group. So while the combining of tanka and haiku writers seems the object of this group, it is already forgetting, or ignoring the importance of the other unnamed poetry forms. Why go to the trouble and effort of creating a society when not everyone’s interests are represented by its name?

We feel that by borrowing the various Japanese poetry forms we have changed them to the extent that many cannot recognize them in English. It seems our nature to revise, revitalize, to experiment, and enlarge the concept of any poetry form. It also feels that the kindest gesture we could make for the originators of these genres would be to find a new name for them. We already speak of EL-haiku and EL tanka to distinguish what we write from Japanese haiku and tanka. I suspect that the Japanese would be overjoyed to find that we no longer use their poetry terms when ours are so different.

If we are looking for a term that would cover and answer all these difficulties, would it not be simpler to call all the poetry derived from other cultures – symbiotic poetry? Our changes to their form would then be legitimized and recognized with our work in these original forms. This would even encompass the way English writers are changing the ghazal, the pantoum and yet other undiscovered poetry forms. Under this one term we could gather the many writers, and artists, who at this time are often lost in the islands of distribution by restricting whose work fits the name of the organization.

We at Lynx, which started out in 1986 as a renga magazine (APA-Renga), then expanded to publishing ghazals and tanka, and now contains haiga, haibun (already listed as symbiotic poems), combinations of all those along with, yes! haiku. We too are looking for the best term that includes all these genres and their combinations. The best we have come up with is symbiotic poetry. We have experimented with the term intergenre poetry which could still be under consideration. However, if we ever wanted to be accepted by mainstream poets and their world, would we not be better off if we could throw off the limitations and bad press of haiku, the divisions of the many forms, to unite under one term that expresses what we are truly doing?

Symbiosis is defined as “A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.” This is a very positive spin on what we poets are doing. We take inspiration from various styles and genres, and cultures for our poetry while at the time same supporting and benefiting each other.














Back issues of Lynx:

XV:2 June, 2000
XV:3 October, 2000
XVI:1 Feb. 2001
XVI:2 June, 2001
XVI:3 October, 2001  
XVII:1 February, 2002
XVII:2 June, 2002
XVII:3 October, 2002
XVIII:1 February, 2003
XVIII:2 June, 2003
XVIII:3, October, 2003
XIX:1 February, 2004
XIX:2 June, 2004

XIX:3 October, 2004

XX:1,February, 2005

XX:2 June, 2005
XX:3 October, 2005
XXI:1February, 2006 
XXI:2, June, 2006

XXI:3,October, 2006

XXII:1 January, 2007
XXII:2 June, 2007
XXII:3 October, 2007

XXIII:1February, 2008
XXIII:2 June, 2008

XXIII:3, October, 2008
XXIV:1, February, 2009

XXIV:2, June, 2009
XXIV:3, October, 2009
XXV:1 January, 2010
XXV:2 June, 2010
XXV:3 October, 2010
XXVI:1 February, 2011
XXVI:2, June, 2011
XXVI:3 October, 20111XXVII:1 February, 2012XXVII:2 June, 20

2XXVII:3 October, 2012

XXVIII:1 February, 2013

XXVIII:2 June, 2013

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