My love for Waka and Haiku verse began with my interest in Japanese poetry and literature when I was young. What continues to appeal to me is the deceptive simplicity with which profound meaning and interpretation are articulated and delivered with brevity, ambiguity and a gentle open endedness. I also believe there is a certain degree of dexterity and imagination required by the poet in being able to choose the appropriate words that tie in to the syllabic format without compromising the tonality and emotion of the poem. What’s also refreshing is that there’s a lot of space left to the imagination for interpretation in Waka verse so the reader has to read between the lines to understand the poet’s meaning.
What endeared me to Waka apart from purely aesthetic reasons is the fact that in Japanese poetry there is an expectation that everyone has the ability to create poetry themselves, since it is viewed as a natural response to the world around us. This innate belief of accepting that there is a poet in each of us was what I found most charming.
Waka is a short, 31 syllable, five-line poem that dates to 8th century Japan comprising 5-7-5-7-7 syllables also called a ‘Tanka’ (short poem). ‘Tanka’ later assumed a major form of Waka and became synonymous with ‘Waka’ There are many variations to Waka from the long ‘Choka’ poems to the very short ‘Haiku’.
Interestingly, Waka lets readers participate in the interpretation of the text, allowing them to construct their own meaning of the poem. It makes use of juxtaposed images, leaving the reader to establish connections between images and what links the poet might have experienced and seen.
Waka is flexible in that it also offers collaborative association between two or more poets. This is referred to as Renga where one person makes the top 5-7-5 syllables and the other follows with the bottom 7-7.
What I like about Waka is its absence of the heavy interpretive tradition found in western poetry. The flexibility of Japanese poetry is itself reflected in the development of Haiku which began as the first half of the Waka form – three lines of unrhymed verse with five, seven and five syllables.
So here I am dabbling with Waka and Haiku, using the mind pictures and experiences gathered over the years, tucked in the deep recesses of my subconscious. Reflecting on the ease of writing Waka has unleashed a torrent of reminiscences over the years.