ORIENTAL POETRY
FORMS & VARIATIONS


Contents


Middle East

Ghazal
Rubaiyat

South East Asia

Pantoum
Luc Bat

Far East

Sijo
Katuata
Choka
Tanka
Haiku
Soun School


Introduction


As poets, what do we think of when the Orient is mentioned? Most would think of Haiku and perhaps Tanka, but after that most would scratch their heads. By definition the Orient begins East of the Mediterranean and includes Asia especially SE Asia, and if we ignore modern names and think of Persia, and we start to enter the world of the poet and as we travel further East we see a world rich in poetry.

Too often, we forget that Western poetry was far slower in emerging and very often was for a privileged few, whereas in most cases Eastern poetry was used by all classes and both sexes. With the spread of Islam through the East, the origin of some poetic forms may be in doubt, but is it really important? Not only was the Muslim leaving his poetic mark, at the same time there was a movement of Buddhists, Hindus and Chinese throughout SE Asia and these four major philosophies have left their marks on the poetic culture throughout SE Asia.

As a presenter of poetic form I will try and give you a little background into these forms.


Middle East.
Ghazal


The Ghazal is a very interesting poetry form and it exists throughout the whole of the Moslem world having originated as an Ottoman poetry form, and as their religion spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, so also did their poetry.
Mostly the Ghazal is far from religious in its subject matter and indeed the form appears to be blessed with an abundance of erotica.
This is probably why the form became very popular in Europe in the 1800's and then in the US with the "Flower Power" generation.
Unfortunately the essential elements have been lost in these "Modern Ghazals" and I feel it is time to revive them or at least make it known what those essentials were.

The Ghazal is a series of couplets each one capable of standing alone as a poem.
The first couplet is called the matla or the place where the heavenly body rises. To me this sounds like a pretty good start for a poem.
This couplet also sets the meter of the poems and the rhyming pattern. In the true Ghazal, the last word/s of both lines of the first couplet must be the same.
Similarly, the last line of the following couplets must also end with the same word/s.
Modern Ghazals seem only to rhyme these last words. I'll leave that decision up to you.
In the poem "Bitter Race", I have attempted to gather together all the elements of a true Ghazal including a hint of the erotic as well.

Bitter Race

Tonight lets have a drinking race
Without your love no clock will race.

Fill the tankard with wine that's soured
Make our feet too leaded to leave the race.

Memory lasts longer than liquor poured
Un-lived dreams litter the path we race.

Life's bitter brew this cup o'erflowed
With thoughts that makes my heart race.

Till consciousness by sour wine devoured
Strikes me out of this hard fought race.

The Biki

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Middle East.(Persia)
Rubaiyat


When one hears the name Rubaiyat automatically one thinks of Omar Kyyam. So it is not surprising to find the Rubia came from Persia.
It consists of a four line stanza (quatrain) and can be of tetrameter or pentameter form.
Lines one, two, and four rhyme and the third line is used to interlock the next stanza and make it into a Rubaiyat, as shown in the following example:
The lonely night draw swiftly down
Covering the world in a deep black gown
Creeping softly in without a sound
As I sleep alone in this distant town.

I close my eyes, but sleep can't be found
Till your loving spirit wraps itself around
Then I'm covered and warm wrapped in love
An ethereal blanket keeps me safe and sound.

etc

The Biki

The third linking line is optional and Fitzgerald often ignored it during his translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayym. Here are the three opening stanzas

I
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

II
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
"When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?"

III
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted - "Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."

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S.E.Asia. (Malaysia)
Pantoum


The Pantoum was originally a Malaysian form of poetry. It was adopted and adapted by the French and became very popular with them. Fouinet, Hugo and Baudelaire, are amongst the foremost users of this form.
It became very popular with the French who liked it probably because of the way the quatrains were linked to each other.

The Pantoum has a rhyme scheme of, a. b. a. b... b. c. b. c....etc and as can be seen, the second and fourth line of the first Stanza, become the first and third lines of the following stanza and so on.
Unlike most of these strict repeating forms there is no set stanza count. The original Malay form does not need the last stanza to repeat back to the first. This makes the Pantoum ideal for narratives that demand repetition.
The French form however, does require you to circle back and the last line is the same as the first line. The accepted method seems to be to reverse lines one and three, so line line three of the first stanza becomes line two of the last and line one of the first stanza, becomes the final line of the poem.
Here is a rather controversial example that was posted to me:

Pantoum for a Chinese Mother

A child with two mouths is no good.
In the slippery wet, a hollow space,
Smooth, gumming, echoing wide for food.
No wonder my man is not here at his place.

In the slippery wet, a hollow space,
A slit narrowly sheathed within its hood.
No wonder my man is not here at his place:
He is digging for the dragon jar of soot.

That slit narrowly sheathed within its hood!
His mother, squatting, coughs by the fire's blaze
While he digs for the dragon jar of soot.
We had saved ashes for a hundred days.

His mother, squatting, coughs by the fire's blaze.
The child kicks against me mewing like a flute.
We had saved ashes for a hundred days.
Knowing, if the time came, that we would.

The child kicks against me crying like a flute
Through its two weak mouths. His mother prays
Knowing when the time comes that we would,
For broken clay is never set in glaze.

Through her two weak mouths his mother prays.
She will not pluck the rooster nor serve its blood,
For broken clay is never set in glaze:
Women are made of river sand and wood.

She will not pluck the rooster nor serve its blood.
My husband frowns, pretending in his haste
Women are made of river sand and wood.
Milk soaks the bedding. I cannot bear the waste.

My husband frowns, pretending in his haste.
Oh clean the girl, dress her in ashy soot!
Milks soaks our bedding, I cannot bear the waste.
They say a child with two mouths is no good.

Shirley Geok-lin Lim

Variations to the Pantoum form

Free Pantoum
One very possible variation to this structure would be the Free Pantoum, a variation which follows the repetition of the Pantoum, but allows the freedom away from verse. This variation recognises the requirements to follow the similarities of form sans the verse requirements, so the form would be a, b, c, d,....b, e, d, f, and so on.
If the circle back is required, the final stanza becomes *, c, *, a. I firmly believe this will create some powerful poetry.

The Pantoum Sonnet
The Pantoum lends itself very easily to the sonnet form. It is only necessary to present three stanzas and the mandatory two lines from the third stanza will form the final couplet. I would suggest the repetition would make it a very powerful sonnet form.


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S.E.Asia. (Viet Nam)
Luc Bat


A lot of poets enjoy writing in Tri meter (Three feet) or six sound units and Tetra meter (Four feet) or eight sound units and so this form should make a reasonable challenge for them. Some of you who prefer lyric style poetry might find this form useful as well as challenging because it lends itself quite nicely to some styles of story telling also.
The Luc Bat is a Vietnamese form of poetry, which simply means six eight. You can see there was an influence by the French as it was The Colony of Indo China before it became Viet Nam. It was introduced into Europe by the French, but for some reason never became popular. I cannot understand why as it is challenging without being too difficult.
The odd lines (1,3,5,etc) are six sound units and the even lines (2,4,6 etc) are eight sound units long, hence the title. The rhyming scheme is simple also. The last word (sixth sound unit) of the odd lines rhymes with the sixth sound unit of the even line and the eighth sound unit rhymes with the sixth unit of the next odd line. The final even line, linking back to the first line. I'm sure you can see the French influence here. A twelve line poem would have a pattern like that shown below.
O.O.O.O.O.A.
O.O.O.O.O.A.O.B.
O.O.O.O.O.B.
O.O.O.O.O.B.O.C.
O.O.O.O.O.C.
O.O.O.O.O.C.O.D.
O.O.O.O.O.D.
O.O.O.O.O.D.O.E.
O.O.O.O.O.E.
O.O.O.O.O.E.O.F.
O.O.O.O.O.F.
O.O.O.O.O.F.O.A.
See how the rhyme links back. There is no set length, nor is there any requirement to finish on an even line, just so long as there is a link back. Here is an example I wrote as an exercise
A Luc Bat Poem

A luc bat poem is such
You need not say so much at all
Simple words can enthral
It can be simple and small or big
An epic thingamajig
Alter words make them fig or fit
The poetic licence bit
Just like that line of **** or ****
Whatever, give it a bash
Now my mind I must thrash and beat
And turn these humble feet
So first and last line meet and touch

The biki

Song That Luc Bat

Like the Luc Bat the title of the form simply states the syllable count. Song That means ?Double Seven?, so as the title implies we have a poem of four lines the first two consisting of seven, the third of six and the fourth line having eight syllables.
In using these forms some liberty must be taken. Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language but a naturally rhyming one. The pure form uses an internal rhyming which would make the form almost impossible for the English writer and so a compromise has been made to make it more enjoyable.
In the example below you can see the seven syllable couplet and the standard Luc Bat rhyme scheme I have used the last word of the last line in each stanza to set the rhyme for the next lines couplet. There is no limit to the number of stanzas. I would suggest this might make a good alternative for story telling.
In the one below I have taken the liberty of presenting it as a sonnet to do this, I have used the last line of the third stanza and added it to the first line of the first stanza to make it a repeating form also.

Dawn

Summer has now almost gone
I wake and wait for the dawn
hear the birds and their song
can there be any wrong with life.

The air is fresh, full of life
day has not begun its strife
lay back, relax again
before the day and strain begins.

Sun begins its daily round
the cacophony of sound
now invading my rest
rising, my day has best begun

Rising, my day has best begun
Summer is now almost gone

The biki

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Asia. (Korea)
Sijo


Korea is a country very rarely considered for its poetry and yet it contains a poetry form that makes me consider the Sijo poetry far more suited to Western thinking than the very often misused Haiku of Japan.
Like the Haiku the traditional Sijo is a three line poem, but there the similarity ends. Unlike the Haiku the Sijo can have any number of stanzas to make it a ballad or a lyric and it can contain metaphor and other similar ideas.
The traditional Sijo is of about 44 syllables consisting of four phrase groups per line. It is usually broken up this way:
3. 4. 3. 4.
3. 4. 3. 4.
3. 6. 4. 3.

The following poem is considered to have the essentials requirements of a Sijo.
Sijo Form
Sijo poetry, a Korean form, it only needs three simple lines
The first line makes a statement and this one a counter claim
but this one, it elaborates, and creates a paradox.

Modern Sijo

In "Modern Sijo", there has been an easing of the syllable count of the phrase groups and more modern poets have broken up the phrase groups into two per line and from this we have a six line sijo as an alternative poetry form.
Thus using the modern form my original poem becomes:
Sijo poetry, a Korean form,
It only needs six simple lines
The first lines make a statement
And this one a counter claim
But this one, it elaborates,
And creates a paradox.
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Asia. (Japan)
Katuata


Introduction
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.

Katuata.
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.

Mondo

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

Sedoka

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?

Teagan

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Asia. (Japan)
Choka


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?

Teagan

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.
Toybox

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

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.

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Tanka


The true feeling of Tanka like all other non-English poetry forms has become forgotten over the last few decades and made this wonderful form just an ordinary poetry form instead of a strict form of Zen.
The original pattern of Tanka (short poem) established centuries ago was a length of about twelve onji or sound-units, pausing after the fifth and seventh onji. Two twelve-unit segments were joined, with the closure a final seven-sound phrase added. This means that a Tanka has three parts and each one capable of standing alone. This created the classic 5 - 7 - 5 - 7 - 7 Tanka. In the true Zen tradition this should be adhered to.

Like the Sonnet of English and Italian courtiers during the European Renaissance, the Tanka served as a vehicle for love poetry for Japanese lovers during the five centuries of the Nara and Heian Periods (roughly 600 to 1200 AD).

During this period Tanka became notes exchanged by lovers. On returning home from a tryst the man would immediately sit down and compose a Tanka of gratitude, perhaps commenting upon some specific event that had occurred. The note would then be immediately dispatched to his lover by messenger or servant and his lover would be expected to instantly compose and return a suitable Tanka response, even if that meant arising from sleep. This form of poetry took on the name of Somonka.

Poem sent by Prince Otsu to Lady Ishikawa

Gentle foothills, and
in the dew drops of the mountains,
soaked, I waited for you--
grew wet from standing there
in the dew drops of the mountains.

Poem by Lady Ishikawa in response (7th C. CE)

Waiting for me,
you grew wet there
in gentle foothills,
in the dew drops of the mountains--
I wish I'd been such drops of dew.

Later Tankas were also written expressing desire for another person.

We dressed each other
Hurrying to say farewell
In the depth of night.
Our drowsy thighs touched and we
Were caught in bed by the dawn.

Empress Eifuku Mon (1271-1342)
In later periods, Tanka were written in praise of nature and began to employ natural imagery to express human emotions. All of these strands may still be found in present day Japanese Tanka and certainly in English language Tanka.

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Haiku


Unfortunately some of the most misused poetry forms are the Japanese ones, especially Haiku. It has a wonderful simplistic form however, in ignorance most modern occidental poets not knowing the true form, or ignoring the truth, superimpose their own ideas and beliefs on it. It is the intention of this discourse not to be controversial, but merely to open the poets eyes to the nature and true beauty of these forms.

Renga
Although Haiku existed much earlier it was mainly a form of Zen Poetry. From the 16th century onwards another form of poetry was created wherein poets would gather together and write a Renga. The Renga was a group of five line poems similar to a Tanka, created by linking a three line poem (similar to a Haiku) with two lines of seven sound units.
The first poet would create a Haiku of five, seven, five onji and the next poet would add two lines of seven onji. That poet would then add another three lines and so on for as long as they desired.
One of these poets was the famous Basho.

Haiku
Imagine you're a reporter at a famous painters art gallery. The people around looking at the paintings. You walk up to a couple with your tape recorder and ask them what they see. They reply to you and you take your message away.
What they said into your microphone was: sunlit day, blue sky, harsh red desert sand dunes, khaki green cactus.
Automatically your minds eye visualises and you see a picture before you. The less that is said, the more the mind is allowed to conceptualise and the greater will be the quality of the picture in your mind. Unknowingly a Haiku has been created.

sunlit day blue sky,
harsh red desert sand dunes,
khaki green cactus.
Most people consider Haiku to be a very strict form of 5 7 5 syllables and some organisations insist on in following this rule. In my humble opinion, it can actually destroy the true essence of the form. Whilst it is nice to have rules, rules are only made for guidance and not blind obedience.
True Haiku presents an observation, a web of closely associated ideas (renso).
A suggestion of time and place linked with this observation and an active mind on the part of the reader and we have "Haiku".
Working together a mood of perception is given. The poet does not need to comment on this mood merely to leave the reader with the image that has been evoked.
True Haiku have two specific images and do not have a specific number of syllables, remembering that Japanese writing runs down the page and not left to right as occidental writing does.
Whenever possible only concrete specific language should be used. Adjectives and adverbs often interpret what is seen and should be avoided. Weak verbs should be replaced with strong verbs. ie; instead of "go", use"run or walk etc".
Words using sensory connotations are preferable so that the imagination is left to respond to the stimulus. As was stated earlier this poetry form emerged and was developed by the poet Basho(1644-1694) into a refinement of Taoist symbolism and Zen Buddhism and although starting in the eighth century many Japanese poets state that "Haiku" began and ended with Basho.

The important difference between Japanese poetry and occidental poetry is the reliance by occidental poetry on the metaphor to set the image. Japanese poetry relies on the literal accuracy.
Soft gentle breezes
stirring white cumulus clouds
tinting light blue skies

Yellow desert weed
brown green runners spreading trails
moonlit blue night sky.
Summary The basic form is 5. 7. 5. Syllables.
Use words that arouse the imagination and make the senses respond.
The use of verbs should be strong with definite meaning like "Running" rather than weak like "Going".
Most of all adjectives and adverbs should be avoided as very often they help interpret what is happening rather than allowing the mind to sense what is happening.

Senryu
A true Haiku is a spiritual experience, an extension of Zen and should contain reference to a season or nature and is a spiritual experience of the universe. The epiphany or ending (satori), should penetrate into the heart of the theme.
There is another form that follows exactly the same format as the Haiku called the Senryu. The senryu deals more with human nature and it is considered the best form when the satori is ironic or funny.
dog breakfasts
before tradesman comes
quickie on bed
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Soun School

Serada O'Meagher

There are a few Japanese Poets , you might want to take into consideration. The first is Takuan, a Buddhist Zen Master, .

Through night after night
The moon is stream- reflected,
Try to find where it has touched,
Point even to a shadow.

Takaun (1573- 1645)
This is a Zen form, not a haiku, perse, but yet a Haiku of sorts. The school most probably should be attributed as Soun Enlightenment, which is the closed translation anyone I know can make. Mishico (as we spell it) insists its "Poetry, Feudal : Classic Zen" This school was influenced by the early T'ang era in China : philosophically this is the product of the rapid growth of Zen, caused by the introduction of Buddhism by the Indian Monk Bodhidharma, who reached China in 520 AD. Taoism, the reigning philosophy of poets and painters for some thousand years. It provided a rigorous inspiration, and discipline: providing a primacy of meditation, it became a lightening rod for those who sought truth: Monasteries became havens for practitioners, and thinker throughout the T'ang, the Sung,and the Mongol influenced and shadowed Yuan dynasties. . Neither since , or before have the arts played such a complete and import role in community and the development of philosophies, many still in existence.

Writers of these poems did not think of themselves as Poets. Rather they were masters, very gifted men and women, monks, nuns, and laypersons who found themselves faced with truths that could be expressed no other way than in the format of a poem. Enlightenment brought the transformation of spirit : a Poem was meant to convey the essential experiences. Such awakenings took , in many cases years of unceasing effort , if they were luck. Most never really knew it.

Basho, discipline of Ejo, the Chinese master, was asked by his Zen Master why he spent so much time in meditation. " To become a Buddha" came the answer.

Both the Soun school, which is best summed up as being ruled without rules, and classic Zen poetry, often are about what the poet sees : perceptions of ultimate truths, reflected in nature, in the few lines of pure essence of thought, of truths, as the writer sees it.

The all - meaning circle:
No in, no out:
No light, no shade.
Here all saints are born.

Shoichi (1202-1280)

Vainly I dug for a perfect sky,
Piling a barrier all around.
Then one black night, lifting a heavy
Tile, I crushed the skeletal world.

Muso (1275- 1351)
Serada O'Meagher

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