Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Carpe Diem Ghost Writer post #39,

!! I publish this GW-post earlier, because I am in the nightshift !!

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

It's my pleasure to present you an all new episode of our Ghost Writer feature. This week I have a nice article about Choka written by Georgia of Bastet and Sekhmet's Library ...
I am not that familiar with Choka, but I love to know more about it ... Choka is a Japanese long poem with also a kind of syllables rule, just like our haiku.
So have fun reading this article and maybe you will compose your first 'Choka'.


Hello Haijin:

I thought today I’d try to introduce the choka.  It’s a form that fascinates me the more I try to understand it.  Choka were long, commemorative poems (in fact choka means the long poem) and the longest ran sometimes over 100 lines!  They were usually sung.  There were about 400 choka copied in the 8th century anthology of waka entitled Man'yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).

The classical choka is formed by writing 5-7 syllables couplets for as many lines  as you like ending however with an extra 7 syllable line. There have been variations over the years as to how to write a choka including modern attempts to revive the genre. Many modern English language writers are now using the choka to create longer poems with Japanese flavour.  You can see how that’s done clicking the link to The Poet’s Garret below.

Now days when the form is used (and interestingly it is often used by English language haiku poets) it is used to tell a story, not necessarily an epic or commemorative tale – just a story.  Sometimes people use it just to write an impression – something link a longish tanka.

Here’s one of my choka which I wrote not long ago to use as an example of how it can be done:

The Last Harvest Moon

as the breeze picks up,
canes rattle in harmony
red scattered leaves
fall in the river and drown
a monk bent with age
walks along the road thinking
his secular thoughts
the splendor of youth now gone
he gathers courage
to face another winter
his arthritis plain
his skin yellow and brittle
then a finch warbles
a cat rubs against his legs
he smiles down sweetly
then continues his journey

the last harvest moon
outlines the withered bent stalks
he walks and gazes
gathering the cold omens
whispered in the winter wind

©  G.s.k. ’14

As you can see, I wrote 16 lines of 5-7 syllables ... from the 17th I created a  5 line conclusion, a kind of general summary of the poem in  5-7-5-7-7.  

There's no need to rhyme but you can and the syllable count is open to discussion if you follow the modern school of haiku and do "the short line - long line - short line" version of haiku, which compensates for the problem of not being able to superimpose the on (Japanese sounds) to our language, using syllables we create haiku that are third longer than Japanese poetry.  I preferred the 5-7 couplets with a conclusive tanka for my choka. 

I found it interesting that the author of the blog Kujaku Poetry and Ships points out that often the last closing lines of a choka were used to give a sort of summary of the whole poem.  When the poet did this, the last lines were often more emotional and less detailed.  Sometimes these closing fragments could stand alone and eventually they were gathered together in an anthology under the name tanka, (short poem) or waka (though waka generally refers to Japanese Poetry as a whole) and so the independent genre tanka was born.

I would like to suggest that you write a choka and here is a winter scene that might help you:

Thanks for reading!  Hope you have fun, Georgia (Bastet)

For further reading:

Origins of Japanese Poetry – Kujaku Poetry & Ships – a brief history of choka

Japanese Poetry Forms – The Poet’s Garret – a brief explanation of katauta and choka with examples of ways the choka can be used.

Well ... I hope you did like this Ghost Writer post and I hope you are inspired to write Choka ... Have fun!

This GW-post is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until December 26th at noon (CET). I will try to post our next episode, Christmastree, later on ... for now have fun!


  1. Very nice! It will be fun to see what everyone comes up with :)

    1. Thanks you Paloma ... I was so happy to see Chèvrefeuille could use this! :-)

  2. Ack... all done and not open yet...
    Guess I'll have to wait :)
    combined forms and prompts.

    A fun challenge.

    1. It's terrible when that happens ... glad you found the challenge fun!

  3. Oh Georgia, what a beautiful Choka...such a lovely read out loud...I did not realize it used to be sung...hmmm, I will have a think about this form more.I do enjoy the rhythm and how you can tell a story...you use this often and I have always enjoyed your stories:)

    1. Thanks Cheryl-Lynn .. I "discovered" the choka last year and tried to introduce it on The Thirteenth Floor ... but made a hash of it ... I've made a little progress since then :-) I'm happy you tried reading the poem out loud!

  4. Writing the Choka was fun...It reminded me of years ago when I was writing sonnets and my thesis on sonnets.... I love frames; they help me write. Thank you and Georgia for the prompt......

    1. Hello Opie, I'm pleased you enjoyed the prompt ... I agree there's something of the sonnet in this form ... glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Wonderful.. Now I just have to write one..

    1. And what a wonderful write you did! Thanks so much Bjorn .. it was a wonderful winter day ... and enjoyed the bottled hot cocoa!

  6. Hi Georgia, I am so very behind on prompts. This looks like a lot of fun to write. Like solo renga, I like starting a poem and just letting it unfold as I write. It's like setting the muse free. I'll give this a shot.