Form Challenges #27


Japanese Forms



Japanese poetry seems to be gaining greater and greater popularity with Western poets. The much abused Haiku of course has worn the brunt of this assault by everyone from first year poetry teachers and students, to Microsoft and office jokes, but serious poets recognise that this little poem is a truly remarkable art form. The Tanka is also gaining in popularity and rightly so and both of these forms will be dealt with later. Before dealing with these two forms however, there are two other Japanese forms which in my opinion should be discussed, and may interest poets looking for something different. The first form is called the Katuata, and the second the Choka.

The Katuata originally consisted of a poem consisting of 19 sound units or onji, (in the west we would describe this as having a syllable count of 19).
There was a break after the fifth and twelfth onji and this would give us a form structure of. 5 - 7 - 7.
Later poets also wrote using only 17 onji and this gave a form structure of 5 - 7 - 5.
There were two Japanese poetry forms that use this form, the Mondo and the Sedoka.
The Mondo and the Sedoka are similar in that they both use one pair of Katuata, with the difference being that the Mondo was written by two poets and consisted of a question and answer, and the Sedoka was written by a single author. See the two examples below.


Why is there no rain
the land cries out for water
but cannot shed tears?

There will be no rain
because you wept times before
when there was some rain!

Juan and Chu


A small boy sees hills
then he will make them mountains
he will have to climb.

If he can climb them
what will he have overcome
that he did not make?


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Katuata Posts

Etain and Teagan
In my Mind
Gloria Carpenter
Roses in Winter
Lorraine Stark
Roses in Winter
Teagan De Danaan


The most intricate Japanese Poetry form is the Choka, or Long Poem.
The early form consisted of a series of Katuata joined together. This gives a choice of form structures of ..... 5 - 7 - 7 - 5 - 7 - 7.. etc, or .. 5 - 7 - 5 - 5 - 7 - 5.. etc. In the poem below Teagan uses three 19 onji Katuata for his Choka.

The Moth

there is no freedom
escaping from my cocoon
I must seek you once again
I am drawn to you
like a moth to a candle
circling nearer and nearer
the deadly flame calls
now my wings are scorched
why must my nature be so?


Later the form introduced the Japanese equivalent of a couplet consisting of 12 onji or sound units, pausing after the fifth unit, giving it a structured sequence of multiples of, 5 - 7 onji and still with a finishing sequence using the Katuata of, 5 - 7 - 7 (19) onji, or 5 - 7 - 5 (17) onji.

storm passes overhead
thunder rolls, lightning flashes
Christopher feels fear
comforting his loved ones.
Tigger, Owl and Pooh,
creating nearness within them.
strange creatures bonded closer.

In Toybox above the Katuata is 5 - 7 - 7, and below in Thunderstorm a Katuata of 5 - 7 - 5, has been chosen instead.


thunderstorm inside
lightning crashes and flashes
no peaceful moments
silent sobbing tears flowing
there is no peace here
loud noises of breaking heart
waiting for phone call.

The Choka could be any total line length and indeed many exceeded 100 lines.

Looking at this, it is easy to see why Poetic Historians believe the Katuata is the original basic unit of Japanese poetry using either the 17 or 19 unit onji.

Choka Posts

Angel of Shadow
Bend with the Willow
Bruce Henderson
On Reading Ancient Forms
Etain Druantia
Lorraine Stark
Never Ending
Shadow of the rose
Stained Glass
Teagan De Danaan
Closed Minds
Silent Symphony

Angel of Shadow

Bend with the Willow

Dance with me, my love,
let the rain bathe our senses
as it quenches thirsty ground.
Bend with the Willow
in loveís shades of midnight sway,
beneath deep amethyst seas.
As moon bids goodnight,
her stars will fall to the song
of the gentle leaf-dancer.
North-winds invite her
southern-night-wings, to open
for their dance of evermore.

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Bruce Henderson

On Reading Ancient Forms

Peel away the years
Shut out the electric night
Screen fades through jade mist
Ink born on a bamboo scroll
The Earth melts away
Words carry the weight of gods
I ride the quiet volcano

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Etain Druantia


drowsy sun yawns
twilight stretches into night
mist gathers in the valleys
owls seek their prey
talons pierce warm trembling flesh
screams echo through dark stillness
final sleep hushes
gentle breeze hums lullaby
until sun rolls into day

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Lorraine Stark


Celebrate each day
with me, with a kiss, a smile
hold my hand and walk with me
on this path of life
we chose to spend together
look into my eyes and know
that I love you so
for your gentle ways
brings me happiness always


Never Ending

It still feels like the
first time each time we make love
the joy of you inside me
penetrates my soul
all inner sanctums open
with ecstasy from each move
you passionately
coax my desires
each time like the first time did



Outside the sun shines
like the calm before the storm
everything is in its place
or is it really?
facades can only cover
just so long what is beneath
when a picture falls
protective glass cracks
hearts will weep when broken


Shadow of the rose

Shadow of the rose
left by the morning sunlight
engraved in time left for me
to remember when
cold winds and snowflakes cover
green fields of summer's gardens
will keep its beauty
come spring when last snow
melts one rose will beckon me


Stained Glass

I can't remember
what made me suddenly look
perhaps it was an owl's hoot
it doesn't matter
for it took my breath away
the parting of the tree tops
blue skies, scent of pine
stained glass pictures floating by

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Teagan De Danaan

Closed Minds

Minds become closed
behind walls of prejudice
slimy and putrid by hate
blinded by the lies
God became a jungle of
creative doctrines and promises
so dirty, weeds won't grow
raptured demented lost minds
feeds culpable ignorance
with reveal'd half truths
bending ideology for gain
until the truth is too deep
sanity is madness
madness also sanity
happy is the fool.



half light of evening
turning everything grey
gone are the yellows
shades of blue and green and red
have disappeared
dust and pollution asleep
nocturnal hibernation
waiting mornings glare
hides amongst lengthíning shadows
trees feel change of shift
the birds replacing fruit bats
create their own cacophony.



The nightís harvesting
full yellow moon escorting
stars in journey wink
privy to all of nights secrets
The night is darkness
embracing cover of clouds
help keep itís secrets
in a mantle of shadow
The night is a beast
that devours all its victims
then hides all itís sins
where demons and witches prey
Night is not for love.

Silent Symphony

A Nightjay sends his call
As night creatures tune voices
The crickets accompany.
Galahs settling down
Overhead fluttering bats wing
Texturise background rhythms
Wind carried whistles
Church bells tolling from afar
Silent Symphony.



River in flood
fed by drought filled creeks
Old Man kookaburra laughing
brown foaming water
carrying thrashing branches
skies overhead still threatening
heavy black grey clouds
loaded with threats of more rain
dragged across a lightning sky
soon flashes lessen
clouds possess white wispy trails
wind chimes sing.

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