Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Jack Kerouac - Master of Haiku

Did you know that Jack Kerouac, the American author and poet was a master of Haiku, the Japanese short form poem and was highly influential in popularising Haiku in America and the West?

Jack Kerouac is best known as one of the Beat Poets of the 50’s and most people tend to think of him as the author of ''On the Road”.

Kerouac was a drifter who along with his friends Allan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and others, founded the Beat literary movement, a group of writers and artists who burst on the American scene in San Francisco in 1955.

They were rebels who rejected the materialism of the post-World War II era in the West, and favoured dropping out of society to experience authentic life through road trips, jazz clubs and altered consciousness.

Kerouac discovered Haiku when he began studying Buddhism and he reformed the way that Haiku was thought about. He rejected the strict, traditional 17 syllable Japanese form, but kept the three short line form. He liked the idea that something so short could say so much.

"I propose that the 'Western Haiku' simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture . . ."

It was his opinion that a Western Haiku need not concern itself with the seventeen syllables since Western languages cannot adapt themselves to the fluid syllabic Japanese.

In 1956, he spent sixty-three days on Desolation Peak, meditating, reading, and thinking about Buddhism. In his collected Haiku, 72 were found from that experience.

Here are some examples of Kerouac’s work:

Crossing the football field,
coming home from work
The lonely businessman

In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
Has died of old age

Wash hung out
by moonlight
Friday night in May

Empty baseball field
A robin,
Hops along the bench

Visit www.moonink.co.uk to see some examples of Western Tanka poetry, the 5 line version of a Haiku. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the free Poem of the Month.

Please contact MoonInk on info@moonink.co.uk if you have any questions.

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Wednesday, 22 January 2020

MoonInk Tanka High School Anthology Competition 2020

MoonInk are launching a Tanka poetry competition for High Schools in London and the South East. If your school is interested in entering contact Lee and Tana Jackson at info@moonink.co.uk for a free copy of the Tanka Poetry Workshop Pack which provides everything required to run a workshop.

Schools will be able to use the workshop material to facilitate group activities where students will write their own Tanka poems. Ten poems from each school can be entered into the MoonInk Tanka High School Anthology competition. The deadline for submissions is the 30 June 2020.

One poem will be chosen from each school taking part to be published in the MoonInk Tanka High School Anthology to be published in November 2020. The authors of the published poems will each receive a copy of the anthology as a prize and the poems will be published on YouTube.

MoonInk will be contacting High Schools in London and the South East throughout January and February to invite them to take part.

Tanka is a Japanese style of poetry dating back to the 5th Century and the poems are written about nature, the seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions, using strong imagery with a focus on the 5 senses.

Mindfulness can be described as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Reading and writing poetry can help people become more mindful and can relieve stress, trauma, feeling down, and other well-being challenges.

The MoonInk mission is to bring poetry to life by taking the verse out of the book and into the world to gain a wider audience for the poetry in our lives and we are sharing social responsibility by developing the mindfulness and well-being of the people living in our communities.

For more information about MoonInk or Tanka Poetry visit www.moonink.co.uk or the MoonInk Blog Poetry Pages

Contact MoonInk at info@moonink.co.uk

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Thursday, 2 January 2020

What exactly is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be described as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them without believing, for instance, that there's a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel.

Reading and writing poetry can help people become more mindful and can relieve stress, trauma, feeling down, and other well-being challenges.

It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.

Paying more attention to your thoughts and feelings and to the world around you can improve your mental wellbeing. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness".

Professor Mark Williams says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. He says, it's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.

It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.

When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted.

Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: 'Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?'

Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.

Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.

Evidence suggests there are 5 steps people can take to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

1.      Connecting with other people
2.      Being physically active
3.      Learning new skills
4.      Giving to others
5.      Paying attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

Visit www.moonink.co.uk to see some examples of Tanka poetry.

Tanka poems are written to capture a single moment or emotion and are written about nature, the seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions, using strong imagery with a focus on the 5 senses. Imagery is key and the words paint a picture in our minds.

Email us at info@moonink.co.uk for more information.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Akiko Yosano - Japanese author, poet, feminist, pacifist, and social reformer

Akiko Yosano (1878 - 1942) was the penname of Japanese author, poet, feminist, pacifist, and social reformer. Her real name was Yosano Shiyo and she is one of the most famous, and most controversial, post-classical female poets in Japan.

In 1901, Akiko moved to Tokyo to be with Yosano Hiroshi, a writer and editor whom she married later that year, shortly after the publication of her first book of poems Tangled Hair which contained 400 poems.

Tangled Hair caused a sensation among her contemporaries for its freshness of theme and style, and its direct expressions of passion in an uninhibited, sensual language and was mostly denounced by literary critics. Despite this critical reaction, it was widely read and became a beacon for freethinkers of her time. Her first book brought a passionate individualism to traditional Tanka poetry, unlike any other work of the late Meiji period.

Traditional Japanese values expect women to be gentle and modest and the role of a Japanese woman was focused on procreation and raising children. Tangled Hair created a new revolutionary image of womanhood, as lively, free, sexual and assertive and a door was opened for Japanese women to imagine new representations of sexuality and the female body.

Her work was immense, she wrote more than 17,000 Tanka and published 75 books, including translations of classical literature. She also had 13 children, 11 of whom survived into adulthood.

An early feminist and outspoken critic of nationalism and government policy, Akiko was also an educational reformer and established the Bunka Gakuin, a women’s trade school, in 1921.

Akiko died of a stroke in 1942 at the age of 63. After the end of the Pacific War her works were largely forgotten by critics and the general public but in recent years, her romantic, sensual style has come back into popularity and she has an ever-increasing following.

Three Tanka poems by Yosano Akiko

Her hair at twenty
Flowing long and black
Through the teeth of her comb
Oh beautiful spring
Extravagant spring!

Translated by Roger Pulvers

My black hair
My thick thick black hair
My wild hair
Its thousand strands my heart
Dishevelled, torn apart.

Translated by  Roger Pulvers

My shiny black hair
fallen into disarray,
a thousand tangles
like a thousand tangled thoughts
about my love for you.

Translated by Sam Hamill & Keiko Matsui Gibson

Visit www.moonink.co.uk to see some Tanka poems printed onto unique gift ideas. Contact us at info@moonink.co.uk if you have any questions. 

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Saturday, 2 November 2019

How to write a Tanka poem

Tanka is a Japanese style of poetry dating back to the 5th Century. 

Tanka poems are written about nature, the seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions, using strong imagery with a focus on the 5 senses, Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste and Sound.

The structure of the poem is:
  • Five lines with 31 syllables or less in total 
    • 1st line – 5 syllables or less
    • 2nd line – 7 syllables or less
    • 3rd line – 5 syllables or less
    • 4th line – 7 syllables or less
    • 5th line – 7 syllables or less
Most English-speaking writers apply the ‘or less’ rule as there are too many vast differences between the Japanese and English language.

Writing 5 lines of 31 syllables ‘or less’, following the short line/long line/short line/long line/ long line form will achieve the same basic effect as the Japanese Tanka.

A syllable is part of a word which has one vowel sound e.g. Swan has 1 syllable, Autumn has 2 syllables and Butterfly has 3 syllables.

Think of a list of images and sounds from nature, e.g. rustling leaves, squawking seagulls, rushing river etc.

Next, think of a theme for your poem and the key words you want to use.

Write your poem counting the syllables.

a trail of thin mist 5
drifts along the riverbank 7
brushing the tall reeds 5
that bend towards the water 7
swirling its way to the sea 7

Visit www.moonink.co.uk to see some Tanka poems printed onto unique gift ideas. Contact us at info@moonink.co.uk if you have any questions. 

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Thursday, 3 October 2019

A Profile of Shiki the Japanese Poet who Reformed Tanka Poetry

Masaoka Shiki 1867 – 1902 was a Japanese poet, author, and literary critic.

Shiki is regarded as a major figure in the development and reform of modern Haiku and Tanka poetry and is credited with writing nearly 20,000 verses during his short life.

Shiki was born named Masaoka Noboru, in Matsuyama City to a Samurai class family of modest means. His father was an alcoholic who died when Shiki was five years old and his mother was the daughter of a Confucian scholar.

At the age of 15 Shiki became something of a political radical, attaching himself to the Freedom and People's Rights Movement and getting himself banned from public speaking. Around this time he developed an interest in moving to Tokyo and did so in 1883.

While studying at the University Preparatory School the teenage Shiki enjoyed playing baseball.

He entered Tokyo Imperial University in 1890 but by 1892 he was so engrossed in Haiku writing he failed his final examinations and dropped out.

Contemporary to Shiki was the idea that traditional Japanese poetic short-form poems, such as the Haiku and Tanka, were waning in the modern period. There were no great living practitioners at the time although these forms of poetry had retained some popularity.

In 1892, the same year he dropped out of university, Shiki published a serialized work advocating Haiku reform. In 1898 he urged reform of the Tanka poetry form believing that a new literary spirit was needed to free poetry from centuries-old rules prescribing topics and vocabulary.

His particular style rejected "the puns or fantasies often relied on by the old school" in favour of "realistic observation of nature". Shiki, like other Meiji period writers borrowed a dedication to realism from Western literature which is evident in his approach to both Haiku and Tanka.

Throughout his life Shiki suffered from tuberculosis. In 1888 he began coughing up blood and soon adopted the penname "Shiki" the Japanese name for lesser cuckoos. Because of its sad song, the Japanese cuckoo is said to sing until it “coughs out blood” which explains why the name "Shiki" was adopted.

Suffering from the early symptoms of TB, Shiki sought work as a war correspondent in the First Sino-Japanese War.

Living in filthy conditions in China apparently worsened his TB. Shiki continued to cough blood throughout his return voyage to Japan and was hospitalized in Kobe. After being discharged, he returned to his home town of Matsuyama city.

Although bedridden by 1897 Shiki's disease worsened further around 1901. He developed Pott's disease and began using morphine as a painkiller. He died of tuberculosis in 1902 at 34 four years of age.

Shiki may be credited with salvaging traditional short-form Japanese poetry and carving out a niche for it in the modern Meiji period.

He argued that short-form poetry should be judged by the same yardstick that is used when measuring the value of other forms of literature which is something that was contrary to views held by prior poets.

Shiki firmly placed short-form poetry in the category of literature, and this was unique.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Some Tanka Poetry History

Tanka may be defined in several ways, but this often lyrical, five-line, 31 syllable poem, derived from the Japanese Tanka and its predecessor, Waka, continues to attract poets around the world.

The Tanka, like the Haiku, is a short poem of a set number of syllables (5,7,5,7,7) per line, written to capture a single moment or emotion. 

One of the oldest Japanese forms, Tanka originated in the seventh century, and quickly became the preferred verse form not only in the Japanese Imperial Court, where nobles competed in Tanka contests, but for women and men engaged in courtship. 

Tanka’s economy and suitability for emotional expression made it ideal for intimate communication; lovers would often, after an evening spent together, write a Tanka to give to the other the next morning as a gift of gratitude.

During the Heian period of Japanese culture (700-1100), it was a social requirement to be able to instantly recognize, appreciate and recite Japanese and Chinese poetry. It was around this period that short forms of poetry grew in popularity over long forms of poetry. The rigid lifestyles of the time carried over into the art and every poem had to have a specific form. 

In many ways, the Tanka resembles the Sonnet, certainly in terms of treatment of subject. Like the Sonnet, the Tanka employs a turn, known as a pivotal image, which marks the transition from the examination of an image to the examination of the personal response. This turn is located within the third line, connecting the kami-no-ku, or upper poem, with the shimo-no-ku, or lower poem.

Today in Japan poetry is still read widely, and millions of Tanka are composed every year. 

Over the last decade writing Tanka in English has become popular worldwide.

The composition and translation of Tanka in English began at the end of the 19th century in England and the United States. 

Translations into English of classic Japanese Tanka dates back to the 1860s in the US and an early publication of originally English Tanka dates to 1899. In the United States, the publication of Tanka in Japanese and in English translation acquired extra impetus after World War II, and is followed by a rise of the genre's popularity among native speakers of English.

Join us next time for a profile of Shiki the poet, essayist, and critic who revived the Haiku and Tanka in 1900.

Visit www.moonink.co.uk to see English Tanka poetry printed as gifts onto t-shirts, tote bags, cushions, aprons, greetings cards, tea towels and mugs. 

Contact us at info@moonink.co.uk if you have any questions.