The Dodoitsu is one of a wide variety of popular Japanese haiku variations. While some poetic forms can seem daunting and overly restrictive, the elegant simplicity of these forms gives them an air of accessibility that is inviting to poets of all ages and levels of experience.
Key Features of the Dodoitsu
Title: Title optional
Form: Usually consists of a single four-line stanza (quatrain)
Syllables: The first three lines contain seven syllables, and the final line contains five
Content: Traditionally have a theme of love or work and occasionally feature a humorous, unexpected twist
An Original Dodoitsu
Black-eyed Susans, snapdragons and lavender for the bees; sugar water, Wendy’s Wish for the hummingbirds.
The Katauta is a short romantic poem addressed to a lover and is similar to other Japanese forms such as the haiku, somonka, and sedoka. A katauta asks a question, but since the question remains unanswered, it’s sometimes considered more of a half-poem.
Form: A short three-line poem, typically untitled Content: Addressed to a lover and asks a question Syllable Count: usually 5-7-7, but sometimes 5-7-5
The Japanese love their five-line forms. (I love them too!) The word Gogyohka (sometimes written Gogyōka in English) translates literally from Japanese to mean “five-line form.” An unnamed version of the form has existed at least since the early 1900s, but the popularity of the form today is largely credited to poet Enta Kusakabe who developed and trademarked the gogyohka in 1983 as a freer adaptation of the tanka form.
A Gogyohka by Enta Kusakabe
What kind of stained glass have your rose-coloured cheeks passed through
Five rules of Gogyohka by Enta Kusakabe*
Gogyohka is a new form of short poem that is based on the ancient Japanese Tanka and Kodai kayo.
Gogyohka has five lines, but exceptionally may have four or six.
Each line of Gogyohka consists of one phrase with a line-break after each phrase or breath.
Gogyohka has no restraint on numbers of words or syllables.
The Haibun features a fascinating paring of prose poetry and haiku. It was invented and popularized by 17th century Japanese master poet Matsuo Bashō. The prose and haiku of the haibun are often in communication with each other in direct or subtle ways.
I walk the north end of the lake this time every summer. Listen to the murky green waters slap up against the weather beaten dock. In the distance, the sound of children skinny dipping.
from a navy sky sound of cicadas calling full moon on the rise
Requirements of the Form
– Titled, unlike traditional haiku
– Begins with a small number of short paragraphs (typically one to three) written in prose poetry style
– Ends with a traditional haiku that reflects or is in some relationship with the introductory prose poem
Common elements and themes include: – Strong sense of place through natural imagery and sensory detail – Travel or sense of journey – Autobiographical elements – Economy of language – Sense of presence and immediacy typically found in haiku – Haiku follows other rules typically found in form
– For the haiku, syllables needn’t be counted 5-7-5 as in the English Haiku. Rather, aim for a short first line, followed by a longer line, ending with another short line. This approach more closely reflects the spirit of the traditional Japanese form.
An Original Haibun
October 28, 2019[a haibun]
October is ending. The blazing reds of the sugar maple have begun to yellow. I stand at the front window, still in my bathrobe though noon approaches, still fighting a cold with rest and medication. A small grey cat brushes against my leg and then the curtain. Beside her, a fat tabby dozes on a quilt on a rocking chair. Beside the rocking chair, a wastebasket full of crumpled tissues waits to be emptied.
I refill my coffee mug, warming my hands with it as I return to the window. The leaves on the lawn are beginning to brown, reminding me of the promise to rake. Last year we let them lay and they choked the irises. At the feeder, only the occasional finch returns. The water in the birdbath is not yet frozen.
October ends orange leaves and white snowflakes fall together
If you enjoyed last week’s form, The Tanka, you should enjoy The Somonka twice as much! It is simply two tankas written in conversation with one another. Traditionally, the somonka reflects upon a theme of love and is written by two authors. But you may find modern somonka written by a single author in two voices. The theme of love may also be adapted and expanded beyond purely romantic sentiments to include love of friends and family, a precious object, or even the world itself.
The Tanka is a Japanese form closely related to the haiku. It’s a slightly longer form–made up of a quintet rather than a tercet–but maintains the haiku’s somewhat strict syllable restrictions. While some of the conventions associated with the haiku are still present–such as the focus on imagery–the tone of the tanka may be more conversational. Restrictions on the use of poetic devices such as metaphor and personification are also more relaxed.
Two Paths to the Tanka
There are two ways to approach the syllable requirements of a Japanese form such as the tanka when composing outside of the original language.
One approach uses the syllable requirements of the English haiku (the well known 5-7-5 rule) as a guide. Following this pattern, the syllable count for the tanka would become 5-7-5-7-7. Strict adherence to this method would result in a tanka of exactly thirty-one syllables. Since the way that syllables are counted in the two languages are not directly comparable, this is only an approximation of the original form.
The second approach is to use what I’ll call the short-long-short method, in which the length of the lines, and the difference between them, is more important than the actual syllable count. Using this method, the lines of the tanka would be written short-long-short-long-long. Using this method, the tanka is often shorter than thirty-one syllables (the number of syllables per line is more likely to be lowered than raised). Some would argue that this method is more in the spirit of the original Japanese form.