I am very happy to welcome a new regular guest contributor to Deep Kyoto: Mr. Keiji Minato. JIPS member Keiji is going to introduce us to the wonderful world of Kyoto poets and poetry! In his own words…
Kyoto was the center of Japanese poetry for a long time, as of most other cultures in Japan (Am I writing the obvious?). Since the old capital was founded in 794 the royal family, aristocrats, priests and afterwards all kinds of people zealously nurtured an original literary culture centering on waka (5-7-5-7-7-mora short poems) while importing new trends from the Chinese Continent and sometimes from much farther places. Now the city is away from the publishing center of the nation (I mean today’s capital Tokyo). However, it has kept its independent line of culture, offering writers and poets a relaxing atmosphere.
Hi, my name is Keiji Minato. I have been a Kyoto resident for nearly two decades (though I am originally from Southern Osaka). For those years my passion has been writing and reading poetry in Japanese, English and other languages. Currently I belong to several poetry-related groups, each of which has its individuality. One of the characteristics of Japanese poetry is its divisions between tanka (waka), haiku, senryu, and Western-type free verse (we call it gendaishi [contemporary poetry] or jiyushi [free poetry]). Thinking of Japanese poetry as a whole we cannot miss Chinese-style poetry [kanshi] and renga/renku culture. I am interested in most of them, and have been trying to write at least a little bit in every genre except Chinese-type poetry.
My main interest now is in contemporary senryu. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a senryu is “a 3-line unrhymed Japanese poem structurally similar to haiku but treating human nature usually in an ironic or satiric vein.” Mmm… First, we write a senryu, and also a haiku or tanka, in one line (I believe they’re better in three lines in English, though). And senryu certainly has “an ironic or satiric vein,” but includes a much wider range of poetic expressions. So then how do you define the genre? That is a big question for Japanese senryu and also haiku writers themselves, who sometimes say you can distinguish one from the other only according to who wrote them. Read this contemporary senryu:
(asahi no atatta tokoro kara uzu ni naru) MAEDA Hiroe
From the spot
the morning light touches
it becomes a whirlpool
And here is a classic senryu from 『誹風柳多留』(Haifu-Yanagidaru) published in the late 18th century.
(Tsubakuro wa bonji no yoni Tondeiki) Anonymous
A swallow like
a Sanskrit character
Each of them captures a deep poetic sentiment in a scene from daily life (NOTE: Maeda is an Okayama resident, and this classic was written in Edo (Tokyo)). Maybe one feature of senryu is its direct connection to normal life of common people. Haiku, especially after Basho, has been inclined to be rather aloof. Of course, you can name Issa Kobayashi as an exception… Well, here’s my senryu:
(Kono kugi wo sukina tokoro ni uchi nasai) MINATO Keiji
you can drive
wherever you like
Most senryu are nearer to natural speech than haiku. However, there are lots of exceptions here too. I’ll go back to the point sometime soon.
I am really glad to introduce our poetry culture to you Deep Kyoto readers. In the next article I am writing about YOSA Buson, one of the great in the haiku history, who spent the latter half of his life in Kyoto.
Thanks Keiji! Keiji’s next post will follow later this week.