Monday, October 31, 2016

Carpe Diem Tanka Splendor #1 Teika's first of Ten Tanka Writing Techniques "Mystery and Depth"

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at the first episode of our Carpe Diem Haiku Kai month, November 2016, in which we will look at the "Ten Tanka Writing Techniques" by Teika and will celebrate the Splendor of Tanka. I hope this month will help us to improve our Tanka Writing skills.
By the way, every episode about one of the Tanka Writing Techniques has a prompt to, maybe you can use that prompt in your response, but that's not an obligation. Feel free to use the prompt. For this first Tanka Writing Technique I have chosen colored leaves

According to tanka tradition Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) is said to have been written a letter in 1219 to an unnamed student in which he mentions the ten tanka styles or techniques.
It was a common practice for students of poetry to write sets of ten tanka on ten sets of subjects as practice and challenge. It was a good plan. The various topics, such as snow, fog, blossoms, moon, grief, or travel, allowed the poet to explore and practice with subjects and situations not immediate or emotionally loaded. These poems were then copied and sent off, with a sum of money, to the local tanka expert for correction and appraisement.
Sometimes the poems were returned with only marks of circles or lines in the margins indicating the teacher's opinion, but occasionally the expert was sufficiently interested in the student or his work (the majority were male) to write up comments or expound more on current theories.
Robert H. Bower, who did so much great work with Earl Miner for Japanese poetry, translated in the winter, 1985, in Monumenta Nipponica the teaching letter now known as Maigetsushō, along with copious notes of explanation. Bower's translation is well worth deeper study because the Japanese author, Fujiwara Teika, was the most revered tanka teacher of his time and for centuries afterwards his opinions were read and adopted with a religious fervor.

Fujiwara no Teika

As one of the compilers of the Shinkokinshū (1204) - the eighth and considered the greatest of the imperial anthologies of Japanese poetry - Teika had 46 of his poems included which was a great honour as he was among the younger and more innovative poets of his day. So esteemed were Teika's opinions that after his death, sons and their mothers started a fight over their rights to various documents that is evident today in the schools of tanka named for the family lines - Nijo and Reizei.
The result is that today there are several versions, with and without forgeries, of the Maigetsushō - Monthly Notes. But for scholars it is worth wading through them all because this document is considered the most extensive and comprehensive of Teika's surviving critical writings. There is a great deal of information to be gleaned from this letter that could be valuable for tanka writers at any age, even today. Any serious student of the form would do well to explore it.
However, my attention was caught by Teika's mention of the ten tanka styles or techniques. He does not elaborate on all of them in this document because as he states, he had already discussed them in previous lessons. For us, the mere listing of the ten styles or techniques is one of the reasons this treatise is so famous. In Robert Bower's way of exploring every facet of any work, he includes a footnote that the idea of ten tanka styles had been given in an essay supposedly written by Mibu no Tadamine in the early 900s titled as Tadamine Jittei - Tadamine's Ten Styles. However, none of these styles bear the same name as Teika's, yet similarities are clear in several cases.

1. Mystery and depth - yūgentei, the image evoking ineffable loneliness

This category is associated mostly with Fujiwara Shunzei (1114-1204) Teika's renowned father and tanka expert. Teika mentions this in some of his other teachings and uses as examples poem #3:254 Kin'yōshū by Toshiyori:

uzura naku / mano no irie no / hamakaze ni / obananami yoru / aki no yūgure

cries of quail
from the shore of Mano cove
winds blow
waves of plume grass
ripple in autumn dusk

#5:533 Shinkokinshū:

furusato wa / chiru momijiba ni / uzumorete /noki no shinobu ni / akikaze zo fuku

my birthplace
buried under crimson leaves
fallen in the garden
sedge grass from the eaves
melancholy autumn wind

These Tanka are really beautiful, but at that time, these were first mentioned "waka", as we have seen earlier here at CDHK.

With this Tanka Writing Technique, Mystery and Depth, we see already the "link" between haiku and tanka. Both poetry forms are mostly associated to nature and with a deeper meaning. In this Tanka Writing Technique we have to try to bring mystery and depth (spiritual layer) into our tanka. So that's our goal for today's episode.

Credits: Kuuya-taka Waterfall, Kyoto, Japan

Here is my attempt to create a Tanka with this technique Mystery and Depth:

hidden waterfall the sound of falling water resonates against the rough mountain in a distance a temple bell moves with the sound of water

© Chèvrefeuille

Awesome to create tanka with this technique, but it certainly wasn't easy, maybe that's because I am not that kind of Tanka poet like Teika or his father. However I like this form and this month will be a challenge not only for you, my dear Haijin, but also for me.

This first Tanka Splendor episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until November 5th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our next episode, mist, later on. For now ... have fun!


  1. Cannot remember if posted comment or not! Just to say thanks for this wonderful month. Your tanka was nice but I saw a beautiful haiku in the last 3 lines, and the concept of the sound of the bell being carried by the flow of water was simply superb.

  2. This post is so interesting and valuable. I look forward to reading the other techniques.

  3. its a spiritual post .the sound of temple bell and and the flowing water mingling together has a vivid imagery and a serenity erupts in my mind !

    dear Krist and Friends ,
    i have decided to write again . for the past few months ,i could not write or produce anything . i don't know why .maybe it has a terminology in the english language . by and by , its suffocating me !
    i must write forcibly and the outcome may be not so eye-catching , but i have to write for the sake of writing .

    milan rajkumar

  4. Thanks for all of the marvellous information and insight, Chèvrefeuille; a fascinating post. I've never tried to write tanka before so maybe now is the time to start.. :)

    1. This month can help you to improve your Tanka writing skills Blake.

  5. What a splendid job you did with the posts to celebrate the anniversary of this site. Thank you so much for encouraging all us that follow you!

  6. Carpe Diem Tanka Splendor # 1 Mystery and Depth:

    across the valley
    the rolling fog
    a silent veil
    deer from the wood
    lift their heads to listen

  7. I apologise for arriving so late to this wonderful tanka prompt, Kristjaan. Here is my link: